A Grain Of Saul

A Grain Of Saul: One Year Later And Trump’s Wall Makes Even Less Sense

We finally have the details of Trump's border wall.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

Last year, right around this time, I wrote about how President Donald Trump would never get his border wall — and how that would be a good thing.

The reasons for this were twofold: on one hand was the obvious waste of money spent securing the border with a first century tactic like a wall when you could secure it with 21st century solutions like high-tech drones and well-equipped border agents. On the other hand was the personal aspect of it, the fact a border wall would hurt family, friends, and the environment in an area I was very close to.

For more than 13 years I've been coming to West Texas to vacation and write about the border, both in Mexico and Texas. Each year that I visit, I fall more in love with the region and — recently — become more enraged by the idea of a giant wall dividing these two great countries. But today, Americans got a clearer picture of President Trump's border wall after an official proposal that was sent to Congress leaked to the Wall Street Journal.

A flyover of the beautiful Rio Grande river that divides Mexico and Texas.
A flyover of the beautiful Rio Grande river that divides Mexico and Texas. Photo Credit: Isaac Saul

President Trump has asked for $18 billion to build more than 700 miles of new and replacement "barriers" along the southwest border. It would bring the total miles of barrier — some fencing, some "see-through" wall, etc. — to 970 miles from the current 654 miles. The border is, in total, 2,000 miles long. If this construction went exactly as planned, it wouldn't be complete until 2027. 

He also asked for $5.7 billion for "towers, surveillance equipment, unmanned aerial vehicles and other technology," and "$8.5 billion over seven years for 5,000 Border Patrol agents and other personnel," the Wall Street Journal reported. 

In other words, the cost of hiring 5,000 new border agents, improving the technology on the border, and building unmanned aerial vehicles that could patrol and spot people crossing the border illegally would cost about $14.2 billion — or $3.8 billion less than repairing and building an ineffective wall.

This alone points to a colossal waste of money for a project that would require stealing privately owned land from Americans, destroying swathes of the environment and ecosystem, and 10 years of work to get it done. But even assuming the best, that this partial wall would be an effective way to stop illegal immigrants from coming in, that somehow the bill wouldn't fall on taxpayers (he's asking Congress, or you, for the money), that this wouldn't seriously damage trade relations with a country that is responsible for 70 percent of our vegetable imports, you still have to believe illegal immigrants who wanted to come here wouldn't simply cross in the next 10 years before the wall was finished.

In 9 of Texas's 13 border countries, Trump lost in the 2016 election.
In 9 of Texas's 13 border countries, Trump lost in the 2016 election. Graphic Credit: Emma Kapotes / A Plus

And even then, the way border apprehensions are trending this year points to the wall being even less useful. Whether it's Trump's threat of apprehending border crossers, the fact agriculture work is less appealing now, or that America simply seems less appealing to Mexican and South American migrants, he's right: illegal border crossings are down significantly since he took office.

So if we aren't going to spend $18 billion on a pointless wall, what could we spend it on? Last year, when Trump was claiming he'd only need $15 billion for a wall that covered the whole 2,000-mile border, I reported on where else we could spend the money. With just $15 billion, we could give every American $45, cut the cost of health insurance in half for almost 7 million people, pay for 41,000 students' tuition at a four-year college, or give $300,000 to every single one of the 50,000 homeless veterans in the United States. And we'd still have an extra $3 billion to play with. 

A banner on side of the road just north of the Texas-Mexico border in Brewster County. 
A banner on side of the road just north of the Texas-Mexico border in Brewster County.  Photo Credit: Isaac Saul

Instead, Trump is opting to request this money for a wall. And it's not even the wall he promised. Instead, most of the money will be used for repairing the existing wall, and in 10 years there will be a partial "barrier" covering less than half of the border with lots of fencing. So, again, even if things went exactly as planned, Trump's most ardent supporters won't be getting the "big, beautiful wall" across the entire border that they were promised.

And that, my friends, would be a good thing.

You can follow @Ike_Saul on Twitter

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