August 17th, 2015

Building a wall at the Mexican border

I’m puzzled by so many comments in this thread on Trump’s immigration proposals that seem to be suggesting that I’m saying that a wall—or technically, an expansion of the wall—should not be built or even could not be built.

I certainly am not saying we have no right to build more of the wall or literally could not build more wall. The question is whether it makes sense to do it, and whether it’s the best use of the money that would be appropriated (or in the case of Trump’s proposal, coerced from Mexico, which I don’t see happening).

There are rather severe logistical, financial, and even legal (environmental) objections to a wall that have been among the reasons it’s been so difficult to build one—the other of course being the question of whether there has been enough will to build one. My kneejerk reaction is actually “build the wall anyway,” because they could be overcome. But I don’t discount the objections to that effort as a mere failure of will. The question is not whether to secure the border—we must do so. It’s how best to accomplish it.

What is the most cost-effective method? What are the roadblocks involved in extending the wall (pun originally unintended, but I left it in there)?

Some are listed here; take a look and see what you think:

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding about what a physical barrier—even the triple-layer fencing in San Diego–actually does or doesn’t do for the agency charged with building fencing and securing the border. All it really does is buy you time where a crosser could otherwise quickly escape or assimilate. None of the fencing is impenetrable. People will eventually dig under it or cut through it or go over it, but it gives you enough time to respond and apprehend them. Some fencing makes sense tactically in areas selected by the Border Patrol, as where we deployed some 700 miles of it…and in many of those areas it has been a tool to provide permanent impedance to deter and slow illegal entries on foot or by vehicle.

As we learned, fencing in poor soil, flood plains or sand dunes can also be more expensive than effective, in some places because of terrain challenges we decided spending more than $6 million per mile for specialized fence was not the most effective use of resources to better secure that area of border and opted for more agents and technology there instead. In areas dozens of miles from paved roads where we have time to respond to incursions or where we have natural obstacles of mountains and water that already slow, deter or reroute traffic we don’t need fence at all. Any successful strategy must rely more heavily on highly trained, dedicated law enforcement officers and better technology tools…

The issue to me is not “fence or no fence, wall or no wall” but “what is the best ratio of wall to other types of border security, where to put each type, and how to muster the will and money to do it.” Saying that everyone who questions the extent of a fence is somehow against security is not only counterproductive but simplistic and just plain wrong (although I’m sure that some of them are against it).

[NOTE: Here’s another article on some of the technical problems a fence presents. And here’s a history of some of the legal challenges that have been mounted against it, which caused various delays in construction.]

29 Responses to “Building a wall at the Mexican border”

  1. Tatterdemalian Says:

    The real problem is that we have a dire need of luring people to the USA with false promises, wringing every last drop of money, time, and labor we can out of them, and then discarding the still-living husks.

    It didn’t used to be like that, it never had to be like that, and it doesn’t have to be like that. There are just too many people that want it to be like that, and their propaganda is so powerful that even people who don’t want the system to continue refuse to believe that socialism is its real source, while capitalism is the only real cure.

    Fix the reason why we need slave labor and undocumented party-line Democrat voters, and the observation posts we already have would be enough.

  2. vanderleun Says:

    “All it really does is buy you time where a crosser could otherwise quickly escape or assimilate.”

    Which may well be the point. Technically speaking one could probably build a border crossing detection system backed up with clusters of sites from which to dispatch highly armed drones to the border jumpers and kill them in their tracks with Hellfire missiles.

    Do this a few hundred times and border jumping dries right up.

    Is there the political will to impose such a terrible fascist system?


  3. JohnOh Says:

    A fence will also dramatically increase the cost to the illegal border crosser. It will no longer be relatively easy. If it is harder to cross, fewer will attempt it. Do you think we would see so many children coming across if there were a difficult fence/barrier to cross? No.

    I’m also tired of the adolescent attitude that says all or nothing. Since it won’t stop every crossing, why bother? It’s either accept the Iran agreement or go to war. Since we can’t catch all bank robbers, don’t bother with a security system. There is a middle ground, and other approaches to consider. The one real advantage of a wall is that it can’t be ordered not to act the way border guards can.

  4. neo-neocon Says:


    You are creating a strawman.

    The point of this point is to say it is NOT all or nothing.

  5. snopercod Says:

    It’s curious. The Israelis have managed to build a wall that’s 100% effective. Somehow, such a thing is impossible for the Country that first sent men to the moon.

  6. Yancey Ward Says:


    Those walls aren’t that long and are pretty heavily manned by armed personnel who can shoot you if they want.

  7. Yancey Ward Says:

    The real weakness in immigration enforcement isn’t the border, but the lack of enforcement of the immigration laws within the country itself. Until forced to, the political class in Washington isn’t going to enforce those laws.

  8. Frog Says:

    Weren’t the Saudis building a wall somewhere, also?

    Money sent to Mexico from Mexicans in the US and petroleum exports are the two largest components of Mexico’s GDP.
    I think Trump is quite right in intending to make Mexico share in costs of any fence, actual or metaphorical.The narcotraficantes are a mutual problem.
    I am not going to do any demographic research, but it seems to me obvious that Mexico is benefitting from the emigration of its lowest castes.

  9. Oldflyer Says:

    Neo, I do not know how effective a physical fence would be. As others have noted, it would make entry more difficult, and that would slow the flood.

    Obviusly, there needs to be more; and more is available.
    I think most people feel that we have the technology and the resources to pretty well seal the border, if we had the will.

    It is simply amazing and discouraging to contemplate how much money we spend to help secure other countries, and yet make so little effort to secure our own.

    Tatterdemalian; I do not follow your argument. Are you faulting the United States because millions of people have flooded the country–illegally? Are we are really luring them here as slave labor? Come on. No doubt there are those who benefit from cheap, unskilled, and uneducated labor, and others potentially benefit politically. But, I doubt that any of them are running advertisements in Mexico to lure those folks to come to the U.S. and work for slave wages. I doubt that there are bill boards on the Mexican side extolling the pleasures of coming to the U.S. to work in lawn care, chicken plucking, or maid service. It is true that an alliance of “humanitarians”, politicians, bureaucrats, and employers ignore U.S. laws to accommodate those who are here. That is the shame. ( the word humanitarians was deliberately put in quotes to indicate a level of sarcasm)

  10. Chris M Says:

    We need a physical barrier. Here’s why:

    As it stands with no wall, we have situations where a pack of 20 unaccompanied minors simply walk up to a border patrol vehicle and say,”We are unaccompanied minors from Central America. Please take us into the U.S.A.” At this point, the Border Patrol is obliged to gather them up, feed, clothe and shelter the children while they await their court date, which they bail out on anyway.

    With a physical barrier, when the children approach the Border Patrol, there is a fence between them. The Border Patrol officer can simply say, “Go home” and drive away.

    The fence is absolutely necessary for this precise reason.


  11. neo-neocon Says:

    Chris M:

    One quibble—there is not “no wall” at present. There are many miles of wall (about a third of the border). Whether that wall is adequate, whether it should be extended, where it should be extended, what other policies or structures are needed to secure the border effectively, and how much it would all cost, those are the issues.

  12. Clayton Bigsby Says:

    How much money are we squandering in the Middle East ( and elsewhere) that can be better used to secure our own home first?

  13. Mr. Frank Says:

    The migration crisis that Europe is currently experienced should be a heads up for us. Economic decline in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America could suddenly produce a mass migration to our southern border. Haitians and Cubans could hit Florida. We can’t shut the door if we don’t have a door. We got a taste of what can happen when tens of thousands of minors crashed and over ran our southern border. We lost control of our open border.

  14. blert Says:

    I think we could get Bibi to build it and man it for cost + 20% and come out way ahead.

    EVERY physical barrier to date has been an engineered joke — and deliberately so.

    If the Israelis won’t build it, I’m sure we could get the North Koreans to build it for cost + 15%.

  15. Lurker Says:

    “Fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity.” Patton somebody or other.

    I say if you catch an illegal you are entitled to 15 years of their slave labor. That ought to solve the problem of both enforcement and self-deportation.

  16. Phil Dayton Says:

    Israel built a wall. Ask them how to build a wall if we have somehow lost the ability in this country to figure out how to build walls. Enough of the excuses for not building the wall. They all pale in comparison to the problems caused by illegal immigration.

  17. blert Says:

    You’d be shocked at how many would not come once the welcome mat (welfare) was withdrawn.

    When I leave food out on the counter — can I say I’m shocked if ants show up by morning?

  18. blert Says:

    There seems to be an overwhelming denial of how many Mexicans — Latinos — you name it ALREADY qualify for legal immigration.

    Given enough time, EVERY single Mexican citizen is certain to qualify for American citizenship/ legal entry.

    For eventually, they will all be a blood relative of an American citizen. We already have about 20-25% of Mexico’s entire population inside our borders.

    They don’t vote any smarter, here, than they did there.

    BHO wants a one-party state.

    Mexicans, Indonesians, Hawaii, Chicago, Boston — ALL one-party ‘states.’

    The results are terrible.

    You folks in the Northeast have not a CLUE as to what you’re in for. You are at least thirty-years behind the demographics of California.

    Come visit East Los Angeles.

    It will prove to be a cold bath of culture.

    This flood has NO intention of adopting American culture. La Raza has inculcated the idea that the Anglo has wronged them and is the source of their poverty.

    Such an outlook is as warped as that of the President, the racist in chief.

  19. SCOTTtheBADGER Says:

    I still don’t understand what is wrong about the crocodile filled moat. It would provide jobs for low income crocs, for one thing.

  20. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    neo, I think JohnOh was agreeing with you.

    As to wall vs other solutions, if only the national discussion were at that level. If we really were discussing reducing border-crossing, and were only debating what is most cost-effective, most of us would be happy with even bad solutions. However, what makes it to media discussion now are different issues: whether you are an evil racist for opposing amnesty, whether these sad people have a right to come here even if it’s illegal, what they are entitled to once they get here.

    BTW, I am not finding the comments advocating homicide or slavery in the least amusing, even if they are meant to be hyperbole. Ends do not justify means.

  21. Fausta Says:

    First start with the tunnels

    While you’re at it, realize that the cartels control the traffic

  22. Lurker Says:

    I don’t find having my country invaded and colonized by a racist foreign culture the least bit amusing either. Nor do I find the absolute trashing of traditional America in all things amusing.

  23. Tatterdemalian Says:


    Of course they don’t advertise “glorious adventures in chicken farming.” The traffickers instead promise that the work is like an internship, where they work ten years in the US paying the trafficker back and making a little extra on the side to send home, then get full citizenship at the end for themselves and their family. You might think it would take a pretty stupid or desperate person to fall for that, but thanks to Mexico’s near total lack of elementary school systems, murderous drug wars, and the testimony of the illegals that actually do succeed (aka toadies that are paid to lie to the rubes), there is no shortage. And with traffickers collecting hush money from customers and employers alike, it’s the second most lucrative business in Mexico, after the drug trade.

    Our Social Security system is already almost entirely dependent on payments taken from the paychecks of these workers. As the identities they are employed under are clearly fake, they will never be able to collect the money they are paying in, and Social Security even identifies their payments and sets them aside as a “safe money” fund to keep themselves afloat. Medicare and Medicaid, too, but to a lesser extent. The workers themselves never see more of the money they earn than absolutely necessary to keep them alive, as the traffickers and the hierarchy of monitors they employ ensure that every exchange of money or information made under the false identity is strictly controlled to the trafficker’s benefit.

    Ever had a Hispanic worker who would always have a “friend” that he was always giving a ride to, or otherwise had a reason to bring along with him, whenever paychecks were handed out? It probably wasn’t a friend, nor was it a drug supplier (like they would try to cut a drug deal right in front of their co-workers). It was probably their monitor, there to take the check off the worker’s hands the moment the boss looked away.

    The worst part is, the “obvious” fix that Obama has repeatedly tried to pursue (give them all full citizenship, pay, and benefits for time worked), is simply a suicide bomb strapped to the economy, which only Congress’s resistance to his executive orders has prevented him from setting off. And even then, the President is probably just waiting for the right moment to hit the detonator and leave Republicans taking the blame for failing to prevent it.

  24. MDL Says:

    Ann Coulter just said she has turned against Carly Fiorina with the ‘Hot, Hot Hate of 1,000 Suns’ because she opposes some of Trump’s illegal immigration proposals. Ha! Crazy Coulter strikes again.

  25. starlord Says:

    The wall would require border patrol agents stationed at regular intervals. As well as remote monitoring. Every wall ever built to keep people from crossing from one side to the other by the obvious means you pointed out had the obvious guards to insure that it was kept to a minumim.
    The Chinese, the Romans, and the Russians in modern times managed to pull it off, but the Americans can only argue with each other about whether or not repeating what’s been done many times throughout history is doable, as if it’s a complex puzzle
    We are arguing over things like effectiveness, as if a manned wall would be less of a deterrent than nothing. This is purely a matter of will, and if our government was as adamant about keeping Mexicans from crossing the border illegally as it is about collecting taxes and buying votes, there would be very very few border crossings.
    They don’t want to guard the border, they want campaign contributions from the hotel, restaurant, and housing lobbies to fund their endless campaigns of BS. If you lived in a border state, it would be obvious how the game is played.

  26. Dons Says:

    I grew up along the border in CA and I remember how the fence pushed illegals eastward as it was built. Not a stand alone measure but it does have an impact.

    The problem is lack of internal enforcement. Once on US soil they are home free. Self deportation works as AZ showed when it was just trying to pass a law.

  27. neo-neocon Says:


    No, it is NOT purely a matter of will.

    Let’s imagine there was no issue of will. Let’s say as a hypothetical that everyone was agreed it was of the utmost importance to secure the border. There would still be arguments about the best method for doing it. Would a wall be cost-effective, and most effective, in all areas of the border? Or would some other method? For example, a virtual (electronic) wall of some sort, more guards, etc.? There are parts of the border (maybe water, desert, different sorts of soil, I don’t know all the details) where a wall would have an exorbitant cost and would be extremely difficult and extremely expensive in the engineering sense. Some experts say in those areas certain other methods would be better. I’m not an engineer, but that’s what I glean from all the articles I’ve read.

    People like simple solutions that sound good. But life isn’t usually that simple. A wall might be good in some places (in fact, it already exists in some places) but another method best in another place.

  28. neo-neocon Says:


    I actually do have a clue.

    I think the entire legal immigration system should be re-thought, and the family unification rules be changed. Those are acts of Congress, however, and it would take Congress to change them.

    Of course, tyrant Obama has shown us how it can be done by executive fiat.

  29. nepacific Says:

    On many issues, I’m to the left of most American so-called “liberals.” But on the issue of illegal immigration, I’m closer to you guys. Employers like cheap labour. This is one of two main reasons why not enough has been done to enforce the laws within the US (the other is electoral). And illegals turn out to be more willing workers than many native-born unemployed Americans, who simply don’t want to do hard and dirty jobs, and aren’t dependable when they do. Those people need more encouragement to work, which could come if there were fewer illegals driving down wages. People might have to pay more for landscaping, but so be it.

    As for the wall, it seems like an expensive half-solution. Extend what’s there, improve remote surveillance and rapid deployment of officers, but concentrate on humane but effective enforcement within the country.

    In addition, the Coast Guard may need to be beefed up, since I do see a future of uncontrolled emigration from countries suffering economic, social, and/or environmental failure. Since those problems are partly our fault, as we invade countries, support oppressive regimes, and spew greenhouse gases, we should make greater efforts to improve the lot of people in their own countries, so they won’t feel the need to leave. Consider it noblesse oblige, if you don’t feel any actual responsibility.

    Here in Canada, we balance the fact that we do not have as big a flow of illegal immigrants by having increased acceptance (for our population) of legal immigrants and refugees. This kind of controlled immigration seems appropriate, to me, at least for an underpopulated country like Canada.

    As an elder acquaintance whose grandparents came from Norway once said: “Immigrants will save America again.” There are benefits to most immigration, to offset the problems.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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