Bahbah: Has Trump Walled Himself in by the Wall
By: Bishara A. Bahbah/Arab America Featured Columnist
It is an understatement to describe what President Donald Trump as an obsessive-compulsive individual. Yet, very few issues compare with his obsession with the Wall that he wants to build on the border between the United States and Mexico.
In his State of the Union address on February 5th, Mr. Trump used the word “wall” no less than 10 times. Mr. Trump precipitated a partial closure of the US Federal government for 35 days – the longest closure in US history – over the refusal of Democratically-controlled House of Representatives to grant him the initial $5.7 billion to begin building the Wall.
The president is waging a losing battle by insisting on building this monstrous Wall that would span 1954 miles with Mexico and would take many years to complete.
Here is why?
Unlike Mr. Trump, and according to recent public opinion polls, some 57 percent of Americans do not view building the Wall as a national priority.
While the United States is sinking in debt, the cost of building a Wall is outrageous. Initially, Mr. Trump was promising the American people that Mexico would pay for the Wall. Of course, there is nothing that the United States can do to force Mexico to build a Wall it has nothing to do with.
An internal report by the Department of Homeland Security completed in early 2017 estimated that the cost of building the Wall would be $21.6 billion not including the annual maintenance cost. Other sources have put the cost as high as $70 billion in addition to $150 million a year to maintain it (Ron Nixon, “Border Wall Could Cost 3 Times Estimates, Senate Democrats’ Report Says,” New York Times, 4 April 2017). Additionally, Wall construction would require paying for hundreds of acres of private land at a cost of millions of dollars.
Admittedly, there are over 30 countries around the world that have built walls for some reason or another. However, few truly believe that walls enhance a country’s security or the flow of refugees in the era of space age that we live in.
Of particular note has been Trump’s erroneous assertions that the Israeli-built wall in the occupied West Bank “works 99.9 percent of the time.” Even Israelis admit that the wall in the West Bank was not the main reason why Palestinian attacks in Israel dropped. Israeli observers and security officials believe that the decrease in attacks was due initially to various truce agreements between Israel and Hamas and, subsequently, due to the US financing and building of a 70,000-strong Palestinian security apparatus whose primary purpose was to preempt any Palestinian attacks against Israel.
There are less expensive alternatives to building a Wall that is even more effective than a six-foot-high concrete Wall, not that I am advocating such a course of action. For example, along with Israel’s borders with both the Gaza Strip and Syria, the Israeli security establishment has erected electrified see-through fences or what they call “smart” walls and not concrete walls. Building those along the US-Mexico border would be less expensive and presumably more efficient. Besides, the mobile video surveillance technology that is currently being used by US Border Control agents along the border with Mexico has proven to be quite effective in halting illegal entry into the United States.
Deterrence works. According to statements made in April 2017 by John F. Kelly, the US Secretary of Homeland Security, President Trump’s hardline approach toward illegal immigration has acted as an effective deterrence. As far back as March 2017, the number of apprehensions and arrests along the Mexico border have declined to the lowest monthly figure in more than 17 years. “The numbers are lower because we are serious about securing our borders and enforcing our immigration laws,” Kelly stated. Well then, if deterrence has worked, why is Trump still insisting on building a Wall?
No matter what type of barriers – physical or see-through “smart” wires – are erected along the border with Mexico, it will continue to be a porous border. Once the barrier was erected south of San Diego, refugees and illegal immigrants shifted their point of entries into the United States to the sparse desert of Arizona.
Finally, the Democrats in the US House of Representatives have demonstrated that under no circumstances they would appropriate the $5.7 billion that Mr. Trump is demanding to begin building the Wall.
On Friday, February 15, the funding agreement that re-opened the recent partial shutdown of the federal government ends. Will Mr. Trump shut down the government once again when he had to unceremoniously retreat during the first round of partial shutdown? A majority of American public opinion blamed the partial government shutdown squarely on the president and his Republican colleagues.
Predicting what will happen on or before this coming Friday can be anyone’s guess given the mercurial nature of Mr. Trump.
The Democrats have offered over $1.3 billion to help improve border security and I do not see them accepting to fund anything more.
Unless Mr. Trump acquiesces to the Democrats’ offer, then Mr. Trump would have unwisely walled himself in by the Wall.
Prof. Bishara Bahbah was editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem based “Al-Fajr” newspaper between 1983-84. He was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Peace Talks on Arms Control and Regional Security. He taught at Harvard and was the associate director of its Kennedy School’s Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.