Deep-six Trump’s wall

An extremely hostile gesture toward Hispanic people on both sides of the border, President Trump’s proposed border wall is also an ineffective way of reducing unwanted migrants and goods from entering our country and a colossal waste of money. Even though the scope of the project has been scaled back, cost estimates keep increasing and Trump’s own estimates have grown from less than $10 billion dollars to a current budget demand of $25 billion; and this would only be an initial down payment.

The Trump administration has insisted that resolution of  DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), strongly favored by most Democrats and a large majority of American voters, be conditional, tied to funding for his wall. This is a kind of blackmail by the president and makes little sense; the two matters should be considered separately, each on its own merits. Most opinion surveys have constantly rated the wall as decidedly unpopular with voters, by more than a 3-to-2 margin.

Republican congressman Will Hurd of Texas, representing the longest stretch of border of any House District, has called Trump’s proposed wall “a Third Century solution” to the border security problem and has advocated a strategy without walls or fences, employing instead technology such as radar, drones and more border guards. This more flexible solution could save a lot of money and could be revised as needed to meet changing conditions.

The hysteria over an “invasion” from south of the border by refugees is countered by statistics. According to figures from the Department of Homeland Security, the number of illegal aliens living in the United States was highest in 2007 and has been in decline since then, with most now having lived here for more than 10 years. Apprehensions at the border peaked in 2000 at 1.63 million and have been in decline since totaling 383,000 in 2017.

But neither the Republicans nor the Democrats seem willing to address the underlying cause of the migration of Central Americans to the United States: broken governments, extreme poverty, and rampant crime promulgated by powerful drug gangs, most of whose money comes from illicit drug sales to Americans and extortion of local citizens. Without a shred of evidence, Trump has stated that the current “caravan” of a few thousand refugees from Honduras is infiltrated with criminals and Islamic terrorists, has sent our military to the border and threatens to cut off foreign aid to Central American countries if the “caravan” is not stopped forthwith. But U.S. foreign aid to Central America is currently pitifully small; much more aid, not a wall, is what is needed to substantially reduce the influx of desperate people fleeing to the U.S. from south of the border.

Nearly half of the currently proposed border barriers are already in place, mostly in the areas easiest to install them (having been installed by the Bush and Obama administrations) and they have not proved very effective in stopping the influx of either drugs or people. Smugglers have been too sophisticated to be stifled by a physical barrier, instead passing over, under, through or around. And, most illegal migrants have entered the country legally and then overstayed their visas. Spending much more for interdiction at the border is unlikely to make much of a difference. 

While the federal government can use eminent domain to take private land, the costs in environmental degradation, ill will and litigation would be considerable. Already, in preparation for the wall, considerable environmental destruction has taken place in a number of public nature preserves, including the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, the National Butterfly Center, several public forests and native American reservations  along the intended right-of-way.

Why is President Trump so insistent that we construct his wall? The campaign slogan “Build the Wall” worked particularly well with his most devoted supporters, especially when he promised them that Mexico would pay for it. He also seems to want to create a huge physical monument to himself, his own “Great Wall of China.” But judging from the history of his building projects and his wanton destruction of landmarks in New York City, such as the Commodore Hotel and the beloved Bonwit Teller store, he cares little if at all about architecture, design or the environment. 

If Congress grants him the money he is seeking, it will only be the beginning and demands for more funding will follow. Genuine and badly needed infrastructure projects such as the Gateway project for a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River will likely not be funded and we will have, instead, an enormous environmental debacle, a monstrosity for which we will be terribly ashamed.


Lakeville, Conn., architect and landscape designer Mac Gordon writes on environmental matters.