Republican nominee Donald Trump’s sweeping tax reform plans and promises to “Make America Great Again” are only shadowed by his idea of building a 30-foot wall along the US-Mexican border, supposedly to keep illegal immigrants from entering US territory. Naturally, not only did this draw a lot of criticism and comparisons to the Great Wall of China or the Berlin Wall, but also a lot of ridicule as well.
But all jokes aside, let’s assume that Congress will take this idea seriously and delve into how building this wall could go about. In his campaign speeches, Trump has given a wide range of estimates for the costs, citing that it could cost as much as $10 billion but that his business chops could bring it down to just $4 billion. Later on, he was quoted saying that it could cost somewhere between $6-7 million then $10-12 billion, nearly thrice as much as his initial estimate. So much for being business savvy!
Construction experts have chimed in these discussions for good measure, giving more realistic projections of how much the wall could really cost. Trump has specified that the wall would be made of rebar and steel at 30 feet tall and stretch for a thousand miles. Analysts at Bernstein Research looked into these figures and estimated that the wall would need 7.1 million cubic meters of concrete at $700 million in current prices. This would require around 2.4 million tonnes of cement at a cost of $240 million.
Apart from that, around $2 billion would be needed for the trucks to deliver these materials, $1 billion for foundations, and $6 billion for labor and other equipment. To top it all off, an additional 30% of the costs will go to engineering, design, and management. Experts predict that the maintenance costs are likely to exceed construction costs over seven years.
One way to assess these costs is to compare to the border fence that the Bush administration has built. Under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, around 670 miles of fencing along the US-Mexico border was completed to the tune of $2.4 billion. Now the entire border spans 2,000 miles and spans the lines of four states from California to Texas, which suggests that a fence covering the entire area would cost around thrice as much. And that’s just for a mere barrier which some experts say wasn’t even constructed securely.
A report from the Government Accountability Office in 2009 stated that the cost to build one mile of fencing averaged between $2.8 million to $3.9 million based on the first 220 miles covered. This does not include additional costs for other factors such as topography, labor, road acquisition, transportation, and surveillance equipment. After all, the rest of the border also spans portions of the Rio Grande and Colorado rivers, not to mention private property that might require the federal government to sue hundreds of owners to claim eminent domain.
Who will pay?
Not Donald Trump, of course! “Mexico is going to pay for the wall, and they’re gonna be happy about it,” Trump has repeatedly said. Naturally, Mexican leaders have also repeatedly clarified that they will not be footing the bill for said wall. At first, Mexican President Enrique Nieto tried to be diplomatic in saying that he and Trump didn’t discuss who will be paying for the wall, but later on tweeted that he made it very clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall.
And in response, Trump retorted that he will make the wall ten feet taller.
Later on, Mexican President Nieto related in subsequent interviews that some of Trump’s comments are seen as a “threat to Mexico” and made him aware that the people of Mexico have been “very insulted.” Former Mexican President Vicente Fox was more candid in saying that the country will not “pay for the f–king wall.” In an interview with CNBC, another former Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that Mexico won’t pay “a single cent for such a stupid wall,” calling it “completely useless.”
Financial implications of building the Trump wall might then go past the costs incurred for design, materials, labor, and maintenance, as it could bring more friction between US and Mexico. Keep in mind that Mexico is Uncle Sam’s fourth-largest trading partner, next to the European Union, Canada, and China. Its exports are valued at $240 billion dollars while imports stand at $294 billion dollars, translating to trade activity valued at roughly $50 billion dollars.
Apart from that, the demographic connection also means that there are also nearly a million US citizens living in Mexico. As of 2009, 62% of undocumented immigrants in the US came from Mexico, although a large portion of these entered through legal means with visas rather than crossing the border. Apart from that, the top four states with a large chunk of the illegal immigrant population namely Florida, New York, Illinois, and New Jersey aren’t even located on the border itself.
Trump claims that Mexico receives an estimated $24 billion a year in remittances from the US, majority of which comes from illegal immigrants. He even proposed a rule that would prevent these remittances from being sent unless Mexico agrees to make a one-time payment of $5 billion to $10 billion, which would fund the building of the wall. Of course he prides himself in the art of negotiating so he’s confident that Mexico will eventually let him have his way.
The bottom line is that Trump’s proposed wall would cost way more than he predicts, economic and political repercussions notwithstanding, but would do very little to restrict the flow of undocumented migrants from Mexico to US soil.