By: Stephanie Musso
With the race to the 2016 Presidential elections underway, the controversial topic of immigration reforms has returned to the public eye. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced his plan to finish the construction of a physical barrier at the U.S.-Mexico border. According to Trump, he can build a better, more effective border and get the Mexicans to pay for it. As Trump and others speak out about immigration plans and the U.S.-Mexico border, what they all fail to address is all of the negative impacts that building a permanent border will have.
The Great Wall of China and the Vatican City Walls are iconic examples of the few borders that showcased power in the age prior to the spread of globalization. As globalization increasingly connects our world, states are putting up borders which often times contradict the freedoms for which the world’s great powers fight. In Border Walls, political geographer Reece Jones explains that although borders have always existed, physical barriers between states are a new phenomenon brought on by the heightened need for securing sovereignty and safety against terror. Jones also argues that borders express power relations and inequality in his examples of the physical barriers between India and Pakistan, Israel and Palestine, and our own U.S.-Mexico border. According to Jones, building physical borders reinforces ideas of terror, inferiority and de-humanization.
Currently, the U.S.-Mexico border spans almost 2,000 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico with signs, fences, barbed wire and steel barriers. Trump promises to completely secure the border with a permanent barrier. This plan would likely increase the feelings of dehumanization which scholars also attribute with increased violence. The border is intended to reduce illegal immigration to the U.S. and to stop immigration of terrorists. Trump believes that his taller, more secure barrier will keep the U.S. safer from the violence that he claims illegal immigrants bring and that harsher deportation laws will help the U. S. prosper, but this is widely debated. An important argument is that the majority of the immigrants who illegally cross the border are fleeing extreme poverty for a better life in the United States, while drug traffickers use tunnels to pass underneath the border and therefore a wall will have no effect on them.
Today, the U.S. is Mexico’s number one trading partner, and Mexico is the third largest trading partner to the U.S. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto explains millions of dollars in trading cross the U.S.-Mexico border each day. This trade partnership Nieto talks of— in addition to the millions of people with Mexican origins who live in the U.S. —helps foster the bilateral relationship. The majority of those millions, both immigrants and U.S. born, identify bi-nationally as Mexican-American. Building a border will simultaneously separate the Mexican-American population from their families and break the cultural connection that exists. Historians believe that the U.S.-Mexico border shifts power relations and reinforces feelings of inferiority due to race and class. Not only will a physical barrier subject the Mexican people to dehumanization but will potentially ruin the relationship this population builds.
Not only will Trump’s proposed 35+ foot wall likely have a negative effect on Mexicans and our relationship with Mexico, but it will likely cost more than he claims. Trump has repeatedly said that the cost to build a permanent barrier across the 2,000 mile border with Mexico will cost $8-12 billion dollars, but the Washington Post reported that this number is illogical. The U.S. government already spent $6 billion dollars on fencing and upkeep of the 33% of completed barrier as of 2012; the concrete walls Trump describes in his plan would be much more costly.
In a comparison done by the Washington Post to the Israel-Palestinian barrier costs, they found it would cost $42 billion dollars to build a 25 foot high 1,000 mile long concrete wall, which is shorter than Trump’s proposed wall. Engineers and economists have calculated the cost of completing the barrier with concrete could be up to $25 billion, not including workers’ pay or maintenance costs.
Trump’s response to the cost is that he will make the Mexicans pay for the wall but there are two problems with this argument. First, even if he could get the Mexicans to pay for the construction, the U.S. would still have to pay the additional maintenance fees and wages for increased border patrol workers that will come along with the barrier. The Corps of Engineers estimated that a 25-year life cycle of maintenance on the fence could cost up with $70 million per mile. Second, the Mexican government already said they would never pay for this.
If we want to improve security without hurting the relationship between U.S. and Mexico, dehumanizing the millions of Mexican-Americans that live in the U.S., and breaking the bank, there needs to be a change in focus. Instead of building a bigger border, we should build a better relationship by working together to end border patrol corruption and looking to decrease the effectiveness of the tunnels the criminals use to cross the border.