There’s one bizarre fact that surprises both advocates and opponents of President Donald Trump’s commitment to building a wall along the US-Mexico border. Advocates demand the wall be built, and note that Trump was elected president with this mandate. Opponents insist that a wall must never be built. Just to be clear, we argued against a “Great Wall of Texas” in an Atlantic essay over five years ago.
But here’s the fact that neither side seems to realize: The wall has already been built.
Johnny Simon posted a dozen photo images of the 650+ miles of border barriers already in existence along the 1954 mile US-Mexico border. They are worth a look.
The US government is currently in the midst of the longest partial shutdown in history, the consequence over a standoff for funding for extending the border wall. President Trump refuses to authorize any budget legislation unless it includes $5.7 billion appropriated toward the wall. Democrats in the legislature refuse to allow any appropriations at all. Neither side shows any signs of giving in, nor any compromise position. That hardline negotiation strategy by both sides leaves the country in a bind. What’s the endgame? Nobody knows.
However, it’s worth reflecting on some facts about the wall itself:
- There was no barrier between the USA and Mexico for over 200 years, until the early 1990s when local US border patrol agents began putting up an ad hoc barrier (using 20-year old metal runway plating) to hinder drug trafficking and crime in San Diego.
- Roughly 650 miles of barrier exists, which is roughly 1/3 of the length of the border. Most of it is in CA and AZ, and almost none is in TX. Roughly half of the existing barrier blocks pedestrians and vehicles, and the remaining half can block vehicles only. Importantly, much of the border is a natural barrier of deserts and mountains, but the Texas border is dominated by the Rio Grande river and is privately owned on the US side.
- The existing wall had widespread bipartisan and public support. The “Secure Fence Act of 2006” passed with large, bipartisan support in the House (283-138) and Senate (80-19). That bill authorized construction of a physical barrier of up to 700 miles.
- The existing wall is effective at stopping crime but ineffective at stopping illegal immigration. It is fair to say the wall does next to nothing to stop immigration, which I say based on interviews with many border patrol agents and personal experience over a decade living in San Diego, LA, and Palo Alto.
- US border agents prevent exactly 0% of illegal immigrants from entering the country. This is a gross misunderstanding of their mission, which is really to apprehend and process migrants into US custody.