Confronting the Wall

Donald Trump’s wall, while impractical, serves a purpose. Yet, it’s not the one he talks about. The wall was one of Trump’s go-to topics while on the campaign trail. To many of his critics, the wall seemed like a joke. It was clear that Mexico wouldn't pay for the wall and that US taxpayers would be footing the bill if the wall ever came to fruition. Up until the election, Hillary Clinton’s victory seemed inevitable; in fact, prior to the election, multiple election forecasts put Clinton’s chance of winning above 99%. Therefore, many Americans never considered the wall a possibility. However, US residents must now consider the real chance that the wall will be built; CBS News reported on March 20th that companies have started bidding to build the wall. Despite the likelihood of the wall being built, the price of the wall combined with the fact that the majority of illegal immigrants overstay visas – a form of illegal immigration that the wall can’t prevent – leads one to wonder why people believe a wall is necessary.

The wall won’t be able to stop the influx of illegal immigrants, even when those overstaying visas are not taken into account. According to Christopher Wilson, Deputy Director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., “in reality if you don’t have someone behind the wall then people just climb over it or cut through it or do whatever they need to do to avoid it.” Therefore, the wall won’t stop people from crossing without 24-hour security along the 2,000 mile US-Mexico border. The extreme cost of that security—it would significantly increase the $4 billion per year already spent on border security—means that, barring significant tax hikes, most of the wall will be unmanned and thus ineffective. Based on Senator Mitch McConnell’s estimates, the wall alone will cost each US household on average around $120 in taxes. 24-hour security along its length will only add to that bill, so it seems very unlikely that such a comprehensive patrol is possible. Therefore, if it comes to fruition, the wall will be largely ineffective and will stand only as a symbol of the fight against illegal immigration.

That fight seems to be one the American public supports. Illegal immigration, while benefiting the US in some ways, such as by adding to the US’ economic consumption, is still illegal. The majority of Americans agree with that general sentiment, with a 2017 Gallup poll reporting that 59% of Americans worry “a great deal” or “a fair amount” about illegal immigration. I, like many of you, have personally heard many people express concerns about illegal immigration. So to its supporters, the wall appears to discourage illegal immigrants from entering the country, and sends a message that the privileges of living in America are for only those who came here legally. While I don’t fully agree that message, it’s not particularly hard to see the rationality behind it, especially considering that a lot of Americans feel that illegal immigrants are harming the country.

So, the wall does have some merit to many Americans. However, when thinking about whether the wall is actually necessary, one must remember that the wall won’t stop the majority of illegal immigrants from entering the United States. It’s main effect will be as a symbol, and 25 billion taxpayer dollars, as some estimate, is an absurd amount of money for a symbol, no matter how big or beautiful it may be.