From calling Mexican immigrants rapists and thugs to ostracizing Muslim Americans, New York City real estate mogul Donald Trump is good at building walls.
However, when it comes to his signature proposal
to actually build one between Mexico and the U.S., Trump's blueprints ignore multiple barriers the government faced the last time it was in the business of building border walls.
According to Trump, he can use a provision in the Patriot Act that forces financial institutions to demand identity documents from people trying to open accounts or conduct financial transactions. Trump proposes using an executive order to redefine the rule to include money transfer companies like Western Union, along with prohibiting anyone who isn't a U.S. citizen or lawful resident from using the services. Trump predicts Mexico will protest and he says all the country would have to do to make the rule go away to issue the U.S. a one-time payment of $5-$10 billion, which he'd use to build a wall.
As improbable as that sounds, let's suppose Trump wins his way into the Oval Office and his proposal to build more border wall goes exactly as he planned. He's still going to have a hard time fulfilling his campaign promise because there is a lot of difficulty in building border walls, particularly in Texas.
The first time the U.S. embarked on border wall business was with the passing of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, requiring the construction of 653 miles of fencing, which U.S. Customs and Border Protection has completed to the tune of $2.3 billion
. This year, CBP will spend another $49 million on maintenance.
In Texas, CBP learned why the one-size fits all method doesn't work when it began building the wall in the Rio Grande Valley, which is a four hour drive south from San Antonio.
The first thing people notice when they see border fencing while visiting Brownsville or McAllen in the RGV is that the wall isn't on the border and there's a weird no-man's land between it and the Rio Grande that's populated by brush, agricultural operations and federal authorities.
The winding nature of the river was one barrier to building the wall, but the main driving factor behind that gap is a water treaty between the U.S. and Mexico that requires both countries to keep the river's flood plain free of any structure — like a 15-foot wall — that would disrupt it.
This compounds into another problem that was particularly acute in Cameron County, much of the land the government wanted to build on was privately owned. The Department of Homeland Security began filing hundreds of eminent domain lawsuits against landowners who stood in the path of the border wall in 2008, triggering a prickly fight, which still lingers. As of last year, there were still more than 100 outstanding cases, Time Magazine reported.
DHS's border fence plan even cut through the University of Texas at Brownsville, prompting more litigation. There was a compromise — a court-ordered compromise — and the wall was mostly built south of the campus though it did isolate a historic golf course, which is now closed, The Brownsville Herald reported
. There is also a popular birding sanctuary and a multitude of nature reserves in the Rio Grande Valley that found themselves in that no-man's land.
However, human-made problems don't just affect people. The border fence poses risks for animals, too. It's particularly dangerous for species with smaller populations, like the 50 or so ocelots that are left on the U.S. side of the border.
As Newsweek reports
, the ocelots are just one example, but the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department told DHS its plans cut right through the habitat of 10 plants and animals that are listed by federal and state authorities as endangered, 23 more that Texas considers threatened and dozens of species that the state was concerned about. Back in 2008, instead of heeding environmental concerns, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff waived laws protecting the environment.
The wall has fragmented animal habitat, which puts more strain on natural resources fauna use to live. Sections of the fence have blocked up animal corridors though some tagged bobcats seem to be figuring out where gaps in the wall are, Newsweek
Those are lessons Texas biologists learned through the construction of the Rio Grande Valley section of wall. If Trump expects to build more fencing, he should anticipate resistance from those tasked with protecting and preserving Lone Star State wildlife.
Also, CBP doesn't want to build wall all along the length of the U.S. Mexico border. It's expensive and having a wall wind through desolate stretches of the southwest border just doesn't make sense. The agency places the fencing in specific, high-risk areas, as Ron Vitiello, the Acting Chief of Border Patrol, told Congress last year
"Terrain, threat, socio-economic, and political considerations vary greatly across sectors and regions, making a 'one size fits all' approach ineffective," Vitiello said.
Instead, border agents rely on technology like hidden cameras, movement sensors, remote surveillance towers and patrols in areas not suited for border fencing.
And, lastly, as media reports from California to the Rio Grande Valley have indicated over the years, many undocumented immigrants simply just climb over the wall or go around it.