BY: MIROSLAV TOMOSKI
It’s been two weeks since we were all forced to finally take Donald Trump seriously. Make no mistake, the Donald has a plan and he’s even gone through the trouble of laying out exactly how Mexico will pay for it all. But as a centrepiece of his campaign, there are still some details that haven’t been worked out – or at least made public – about his proposal to construct a border wall.
In his first post-election interview with 60 Minutes, Trump doubled down on his promise and even showed a willingness to compromise admitting that some parts of the wall may not entirely be set in stone – or concrete for that matter.
“They’re talking about a fence in the Republican congress, would you accept a fence?” He was asked.
“For certain areas I would,” Trump said. “But in certain areas a wall is more appropriate. I’m very good at this. It’s called construction.”
Whatever we choose to call it once the ground is finally broken, it’s a rather simple solution to a very real and very complex problem. If polling organisations have retained any sense of confidence after this election, the data suggests that a wall might not be necessary. According to PEW Research the number of illegal immigrants crossing into the US from Mexico has been on the decline since 2009, where that same number among other immigrants (largely from Asia and sub-Saharan Africa) has increased.
A better idea could be to scrap the wall and post more border guards at sea, but if America is set on a wall and Trump is determined to make it happen, it might do everyone some good to see what we can learn from history’s greatest barriers.
Height: 16-19 ft. (5-6 meters)
Length: 80 Roman miles (117 km)
Purpose: Much of what we know about this wall today is the result of archaeological research rather than a firsthand record by those who constructed it. It is believed to have been constructed by the Roman legions stationed in Britain to guard the frontier. The Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of the wall in 128 AD in what historians believe was an attempt to mark a permanent border for the empire. In addition to the wall, several forts were constructed to ensure that the barrier itself could be protected. In 142 AD it was replaced with the Antonine Wall, but both were eventually abandoned as the Empire’s borders began to shrink.
Height: 26 ft. (approx. 8 meters)
Length: 5,500 miles (8,851 km)
Material: various materials including stone, brick and hardened earth
Cost: approx.. $360 billion
Purpose: Built by the Ming dynasty over a period of 200 years the Great Wall of China consists of a series of walls constructed to protect China against its northern neighbours. Much like Hadrian’s Wall, China’s Great Wall was not a standalone barrier and included a series of structures designed to protect it from attacks. Among these structures were towers built on the outside of the wall and relying on a complex system of communication to warn of an enemy army’s approach. In 1205 the wall and China itself were conquered by Genghis Khan and made a part of the Mongol Empire.
The Berlin Wall
Height: 11.8 ft. (3.6 meters)
Length: 91 miles (155 km)
Material: Concrete and wire fencing
Cost: $25 million
Purpose: Construction of the Berlin wall began on August 13, 1961 and would continue until the wall’s destruction on November 9, 1989. The wall was built to prevent East Berliners from crossing the border to flee an increasingly oppressive government. It encircled the entire Western side of the city which was trapped in the middle of the Soviet controlled East Germany. Nearly 140 people were killed trying to cross the wall and thousands successfully escaped by climbing, breaking, tunnelling and even the use of hot air balloons and aircraft. The frequency with which Berliners attempted escape caused the wall to become a continuous project for the East German government which developed to include, a secondary rear wall, guard towers, mine fields, and a complete reconstruction to prevent vehicles from ramming through.
Israel’s West Bank Wall
Height: 25 ft. (8 meters)
Length: 403 miles (650 km)
Cost: Estimated 6.4 billion (still under construction)
Purpose: This wall has been praised by Trump during the campaign as an example of a great success and a model for America’s border. Construction began on the wall in 2000 when violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem came to a head during the Second Intifada. A study conducted by the Jewish Virtual Library (JVW) found that violence in the city was reduced by 90% after the construction of the barrier. But when examining the numbers more closely, both JVW and PolitiFact attributed the decreasing violence to a number of factors, including the security infrastructure built around the wall and the end of the contentious period known as the Second Intifada.
Despite its perceived success, the wall – commonly known to Palestinians as the Apartheid Wall – has received widespread criticism and is even considered to be illegal by the International Court of Justice. With large sections of the wall crossing over into Palestinian territory on the West Bank, many have criticised the Israeli government claiming that the wall is an attempt to use the country’s security to justify the expansion of its borders.
If history can tell us anything about the big beautiful wall Trump has promised, it’s clear that this will not be a simple project. To be sure, the wall would be historic in its own right as a barrier between two friendly countries. But in order for it to work as other walls have, it has to be complex. History’s greatest walls have all been much more than simple barriers. They took several decades to construct and maintain and have had a network of supportive infrastructure around them to ensure that they served their purpose. That sort of large scale project is going to come with a serious long term budget.
By Trump’s own estimate – which has consistently increased throughout the campaign – the wall could range in price from $4 to $12 billion, while a study by the Washington Post estimated that a more realistic price would be around $25 billion. And that’s just for its initial construction.
According to the environmental group the Sierra Club, “The Government Accountability Office estimates that wall maintenance costs will exceed initial construction costs within seven years, not including costs associated with vandalism.”
But if Mexico is going to cover the bill, American’s might still want to consider the human cost a physical barrier would have. The cost of sending Mexico that bill could serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy causing the Mexican economy to collapse and sending its people scrambling across the border; giving the wall a purpose. But a massive concrete slab across such a dynamic landscape would carry several unintended consequences that will have a major impact on those who live on both sides of the border.
For example, large sections of the southern border don’t even belong to the US Government, but are either privately owned or a part of Native reservations. One tribe in particular, known as the Tohono O’odham Nation, has said that it refuses to allow a wall be built along the 75 mile stretch of the border that falls within their land.
“As a people, as a community, it would be a literal separation from our home. Half of the traditional lands of our people lie in Mexico.” One member of the tribe told The Washington Post.
This kind of opposition would either leave ridiculous gaps in the wall or require the Trump Administration to make some very unpopular decisions that have confronted governments of the past. Others have tried to close the floodgates before and were totally justified in abandoning the idea. Under the Bush Administration, the Secure Fence Act (explained in this video by John Oliver) made an attempt to build 700 miles of fence. As a result of geographical obstacles and irritated land owners, sections of the current fence had to be build a significant distance away from the border leaving large swaths of private land awkwardly trapped on the other side of a wall that was never meant for its own citizens.
Trump’s wall is going to present a series of challenges that have not been addressed by the future president; from the construction of roads – where none currently exist – in order to transport building materials, to its continued maintenance and protection by Customs and Border Patrol agents. It is a 2000 mile undertaking whose challenges have been seriously underplayed and well documented by others who have discovered that walls are often built on the wrong side of history.