A crack in Trump’s border wall

Since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, construction of border walls has quadrupled to reach 70 around the world, on the pretext to put a halt on illegal immigration, prevent terrorism or avoid the expansion of regional conflicts

English 02/04/2017 08:43 Mexico City Carlos Heredia Zubieta Actualizada 18:53

“I will build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build it very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will make Mexico pay for that wall, mark my words.” this was one of the first election promises Donald Trump pledged to on June 16, 201. Once in the White House, he signed the executive order associated with that same pledge on January 25, 2017.

Since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, construction of border walls has quadrupled to reach 70 around the world, on the pretext to put a halt on illegal immigration, prevent terrorism or avoid the expansion of regional conflicts.

Élisabeth Vallet, associate professor of Strategic and Diplomatic studies at the University of Quebec in Montreal (Université du Québec à Montréal, UQAM), is the author of Walled borders – Violent borders, which analyzes border walls around the world. Said study has been referenced by The New York Times and reminds us that three democratic states have build border walls that separate them from their neighbors: the oldest democracy, the U.S.; the most populated democracy, India; and the most stable democracy in the Middle East, Israel. The latter has been called “the apartheid wall” by the Daily Mail, in reference to the wall between Palestine and Israel in Cisjordania and Gaza, following professor’s Vallet work.

After the release of the executive order to build the Mexico-U.S. border wall, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trumps’ decision, while the Mexican-Jewish community strongly condemned his statement. India has built walls in its borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh, while the Mediterranean Sea has served as an immense water wall between North Africa and southern Europe. However, Trump’s planned border wall stirred controversy from the moment it became public.

Who benefits from border walls? What are they really for?

Janet Napolitano, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) during president Obama first administration has put the issue bluntly:"Show me a 50-foot wall, and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder.”

There are several walls between Mexico and the U.S. in the 930km out of the 3,200km of their shared border. It is worth mentioning that none of the attackers on September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks enter the U.S. via Mexico, and that they all held U.S. visas; 16 years after that fateful day, no single terrorist event has taken place or originated in the Mexico-U.S. border. Additionally, over 40% of the people that legally entered the U.S., extended their stay in the country for periods of time longer than those permitted by their visa, from the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S.

In his 1914 poem, Mending Wall, Robert Frost notes:

“Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.”

By building a wall to prevent access of unauthorized people into the country, one is actually promoting that those who are illegally residing in the U.S. stay there while deterring them from leaving the country.

Mexico won’t pay for the border wall with the U.S., but it still needs to bring down some walls of its own. The border line between Tijuana and San Diego represents a movement of around 21 million people per year. Regional development in the area has taken place despite strict border controls, not thanks to them, which makes Trump border wall and unprecedented project considering the commercial relationship between Mexico and the U.S.Trump’s wall means that Mexico is not part of Trump’s white Anglo-Saxon North America.

Democrat congressmen have expressed their rejection to the border wall between the two countries and fear that it will revive anti-American feelings, while the Mexican government has insisted that Mexico will not pay for the wall. The president of the U.S. senate Mitch McConnel replied with an emphatic “no”, when asked if Mexico would actually pay for the wall.

However, it is very contradictory that Mexico opposes to a wall in its northern border, while it promotes a virtual wall to seal its southern border, considering the repeated human rights violations to Central American transmigrants, in addition to the Mexican authorities rhetoric that points to Central American migration as a real safety threat and thus considers the phenomenon as an exchange currency to put on the negotiation table with the Trump administration.

Is there enough money to build Trump’s wall?

The project has already suffered from a series of setbacks:

There is no agreement on the type of “physical barrier” that should be built: a wall or a fence?

2018 budget is not enough to commence with the first stage of its construction which amounts to USD$21,600m

Owners of borderland in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas will oppose the project in court

Vallet is very clear about border walls “Border walls are a short-term response to the challenges imposed by globalization. They fail to work.” Walls create an illusion of safety but fail to provide any real security.

It is very likely that we will end up bearing witness to a diluted version of Trump’s original project and that we see him placing the first stone or riding a bulldozer, while he claims to have fulfilled his promise to his electorate in the hope that they buy his performance. In any case, the real damage for the Mexico-U.S. bilateral relations is already done at a devastating cost.

Carlos Heredia Zubieta is an associate professor at CIDE