It is a phrase that has become synonymous with Donald Trump, thunderously echoing through the halls at his rallies both during the 2016 presidential campaign and even today.
“Build that wall!”
Both Trump and the people who put him in the White House have not lost their enthusiasm to put a wall on our southern border. And yet, almost two full years into the Trump presidency, the wall remains not a reality but an aspiration. Will it ever get built?
If left to the generosity of Congress alone, the answer is most assuredly “no.” The Democrats are in lockstep against the very idea of a border wall. Aside from the small but vocal Freedom Caucus, even many Republicans seem lukewarm about committing to border wall funding. Trump hinted at the possibility of shutting down the government unless the wall was included in budgets this year, only to drop the demand when negotiations neared conclusion. The most recent omnibus spending bill allocated only $1.6 billion for border security—with the insulting provision that none of it be used for any of Trump’s border wall prototypes. Every day that passes in this administration, the window to get the wall funded is steadily closing. Here are some scenarios that could result in the wall that so many Americans want:
Trump plays hardball with Congress. If Trump sticks to his threat and shuts down the government, it will create the predictable panic in the media and in many congressional offices. The Democrats will never allow themselves to be seen as cooperating with Trump, so again it would come down to a handful of moderate Republicans who are most likely to be caught up in a state of panic. The entire scenario is contingent on the Republicans keeping majorities in both houses of Congress. If the Democrats claim either house in the mid-term elections, congressional funding of the wall is kaput.
The military builds it. Earlier this year, Trump floated the idea of dipping into the Defense Department budget to fund the wall. The Department of Homeland Security sent a request to Defense Secretary James Mattis to use $450 million to build a 30-foot tall, 32-mile section of wall along Arizona’s Goldwater bombing range near Yuma. While this seems like an attractive way to circumvent Congress, it has its own complexities. Among them is the environmental impact study that would be required. If the Navy were to find that the project would have a significant environmental impact on the surrounding area, the Pentagon would then have to conduct a more thorough study. In the realities of Washington, that could take years. It is also safe to say that there would be a deluge of lawsuits filed by anti-borders groups seeking to block the project.
Alternate funding. The few brave souls in Congress supporting the wall have been using out-of-the-box thinking to accomplish their goal. In May of this year, Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation that would create a border wall trust fund, allowing the American people to donate money to get the wall built. Black should be commended for her creative thinking, but with the price tag for the wall conservatively estimated at $20 billion, such a fund could take a considerable amount of time to reach needed levels. Another recent proposal in Congress was to defund sanctuary jurisdictions and reroute the withheld funds to pay for wall construction. This is also an inspired idea, but seems more to make a point about the dangerous absurdity of sanctuary cities than to legitimately cover wall costs.
The Immigration Reform Law Institute has been in the trenches in these and other battles in the immigration wars. With that perspective, the claim by opponents that a wall would have a destructive environmental impact is particularly ironic. The National Environmental Policy Act requires that any agency before implementing actions or programs that will affect the environment, issue an Environmental Impact Statement analyzing and publicizing those effects. The federal government’s immigration programs are probably the most environmentally consequential programs there are, yet no such analysis has ever been done. One only needs to visit our border areas to see the seemingly endless pollution that comes from rampant, illegal mass migration.
It is clear that each of these scenarios comes with their own pitfalls. Upon further review, it may be that the best strategy to make the wall a reality is also the most obvious: put pressure on politicians and let them know that their constituents demand a wall. Trump may be the most pro-border security president we have ever had, but it will take a lot more than just his personal convictions to overcome the political and legal obstacles in the path.
Brian Lonergan is director of communications at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.
Also published at: Brian Lonergan, Will the Border Wall Ever Get Built?, American Border Magazine, November 19, 2018.