One of President Donald Trump’s keystone policies was building a wall along the US-Mexico border. While critics argued it was costly and ineffective, supporters say the wall improved border security. This article examines evidence on the impact of Trump’s border wall project.
Overview of Trump’s Border Wall Project
- Trump promised to build a wall and “make Mexico pay” during his 2016 campaign. In office, he pushed major funding for border wall construction.
- Most financing came from diverting Pentagon funds, as Mexico did not pay. Trump built over 450 miles of new barriers by 2020 ().
- Construction replaced some existing fencing with 30-foot high steel bollards. Walls went up in Arizona, New Mexico and California.
- The Trump administration spent over $15 billion on border wall projects from 2017-2021 (). Hundreds of eminent domain lawsuits were filed against landowners.
Arguments Supporting Effectiveness of the Border Wall
Slowed Illegal Crossings
- Border Patrol reported apprehensions of illegal border crossers dropped in sectors where barriers went up (). Physical obstacles deterred migration flows.
- Monthly apprehensions fell from 144,000 in May 2019 before new wall construction to 34,000 by October 2020 (). Apprehensions measure relative crossings.
Enhanced Surveillance Capabilities
- Integrated camera systems, sensors, and radar were installed along with barriers to improve monitoring (). This digital wall component enhanced enforcement.
- Monitoring capability coupled with barriers boosted agents’ chances of interdicting illegal entries in covered areas.
Reduced Crime in Border Zones
- Crime decreased significantly in Arizona border towns like Yuma after installation of barriers (). Walls provided security from cross-border drug and human smuggling.
- Barriers rerouted illicit trafficking to more remote areas, reducing public safety threats in towns near the border.
Arguments Against Effectiveness of the Border Wall
Majority of Border Remained Unwalled
- Trump only built 450 miles of wall, leaving over 2,000 miles unfenced. Most migrants just crossed in unprotected areas ().
- Smugglers used improvised ladders and ropes to scale barriers quickly. Walls only forced them to points without walls.
Declining Apprehension Rates Preceded Wall
- Border apprehensions had already fallen long before Trump due to lower migration from Mexico (). The wall did not cause the downward trend.
- Harsh pandemic border restrictions enacted in 2020 were the real factor reducing apprehensions, not the wall ().
- Government estimates put costs at $26 million per mile in borderlands. The $15 billion price tag was exorbitant ().
- GAO found lacking analysis justifying wall contracts. Cheaper tech-based surveillance could have achieved similar security.
Evidence suggests Trump’s border wall marginally enhanced security in covered sections but failed to demonstrate cost-effectiveness overall. Illegal entries shifted to unguarded areas, showing the limits of walls absent broader reforms.
While supporters can rightly claim some security gains, limited scope and massive spending dampen the benefits. Like any single enforcement tool, walls alone cannot solve complex migration challenges. But neither are they entirely ineffective or symbolic as critics charge. Based on current evidence, the border wall stands as a moderately helpful but extravagantly expensive element of border policy.
- BBC News. “Trump wall: How much has he actually built?” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-46748492
- NPR. “Trump’s Border Wall: How Much Has Been Built So Far?” https://www.npr.org/2020/10/27/927640619/trumps-border-wall-how-much-has-been-built-so-far
- Washington Post. “Border apprehensions hit 12-year high in March as Trump vows ‘tougher direction'” https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/border-apprehensions-hit-12-year-high-in-march-as-trump-vows-tougher-direction/2019/04/10/e10c7f9c-5b53-11e9-9625-01d48d50ef75_story.html
- CATO Institute. “Mr. President, Tear Down This Wall” https://www.cato.org/blog/mr-president-tear-down-wall
- DHS. “Walls Work” https://www.dhs.gov/news/2020/10/29/walls-work
- Fox News. “Border wall helps reduce crime, illegal crossings in Yuma, Arizona” https://www.foxnews.com/politics/border-wall-helps-reduce-crime-illegal-crossings-yuma-arizona
- Princeton University. “On the Effectiveness of Border Walls” https://www.princeton.edu/~mslaughter/New%20Draft%20-%20On%20the%20Effectiveness%20of%20Border%20Walls.pdf
- American Immigration Council. “The Wall: The Real Costs of a Barrier between the U.S. and Mexico” https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/the-wall-the-real-costs-of-a-barrier-between-the-united-states-and-mexico
- World Politics Review. “Trump’s Border Wall Was Never Going to Stop Immigration” https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/insights/29576/trump-s-border-wall-was-never-going-to-stop-immigration
- US GAO. “Southwest Border Security: CBP Is Evaluating Designs and Locations for Border Barriers but Is Proceeding Without Key Information” https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-18-614
Hi y’all, I’m Caroline Webster, your proud Texan source for everything related to our 45th president, Donald Trump, and the GOP.
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