The absurdity of Trump’s border wall proposal

If you are asked to name a single concrete issue that is singularly identified with any of the presidential candidates, then on the Democratic side Bernie Sanders’s call for free tuition at public colleges and to expand Medicare to cover everyone stands out. On the Republican side, the only one that comes to mind is Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall along the entire US-Mexico border and round up and forcibly deport every undocumented immigrant in the country That is his signature issue that he harps on over and over again, starting with his speech announcing his candidacy:

“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

It is of course an absurd promise to make though it catapulted him to the top of the pack. The cost of such an undertaking is immense, with estimates ranging from $6 billion to around $25 billion.

But the cost of just building the fence, though large, is dwarfed by the estimated cost of $200 billion for the initial roundup and deportation and the $85 billion to operate the program for another five years . And then you have the cost of maintaining the wall. And you will have endless litigation costs as the government tries to seize private land to build the wall. Even if Trump gets Mexico to pay for the wall (which will never happen), the US will be on the hook for the mass deportation program and the maintenance.

Sanders, if elected president, would have a realistic shot at implementing his proposals because it benefits many and one can expect tangible benefits from them. Trump’s proposal, on the other hand, would have a much harder time since the cost is so high and the benefits are non-existent, except for partially satiating the xenophobic lust of his supporters. Building a wall in the middle of nowhere, as much of the border region is, makes little sense.

“There is a reason people don’t build fences in the middle of nowhere; it doesn’t change the enforcement profile in the middle of nowhere,” the migration expert said. “The existing fence has worked because of where it is, near populated areas. Both Democrats and Republicans have testified that they have the fencing they need,” [Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute] said.

Maybe Trump thinks that migrants will be like these cowboys in Blazing Saddles.


  1. raven says

    Immigration from Mexico peaked around 2010. It’s gone negative with over 100,000 net going…back to Mexico recently per year.

    All that wall would do is trap the Mexican nationals trying to go back in the USA.

    Unless some genius Mexican invents the…ladder.

  2. raven says

    Scott Walker had a better idea. The great US-Canadian Wall. It’s a much longer border and a lot of it is deep under water, making for some tricky technical challenges.

    It’s not to keep Canadians out though, fleeing National Health Care for the US system of pay up or die in the street. It’s to keep Americans from escaping north once the Tea Party takes power. Sort of a Berlin Wall for a continent.

  3. laurentweppe says

    Sometimes I wonder if Trump’s actual plan for financing all his mad projects is to get elected, then go on TV and say “I’m sitting on a pile of 30.000 nukes, so every countries pay me tribute or Humanity goes bye bye

  4. jimmyfromchicago says

    Add to that, the fact that walls don’t work. Trump could ask the Chinese, if he didn’t hate them so much too…

  5. doublereed says

    Eh, $25 billion isn’t that much for our government. That’s not that crazy.

    The costs of deportation are vastly exaggerated for Trump. It’s assuming a lot of things: like Trump cares about deporting American citizens or that Trump cares about due process. And that the president would not be capable of roadblocking judicial oversight for such an endeavor. The fact is most of those are legal costs to ensure that people have a fair trial and are in fact undocumented immigrants.

    I have no illusions that mass deportation is perfectly feasible in a logistical sense. It’s just that it would heinous, inhumane, and probably genocidal.

    It amazes me that when Trump proposes these things, people focus on the cost of such things. As if the question is “Well, if you were to do this horribly vicious and inhumane act, how exactly would you do it?” It’s almost comical how people are dodging the real issue here.

  6. doublereed says

    Just look at the Armenian Genocide (which was also a “mass deportation”). That was literally a century ago. You really think we couldn’t do the same kind of thing 10x over if we wanted to?

  7. Nick Gotts says


    Exactly right. Moreover, Trump could ensure a considerable degree of “self-deportation” by using his “management” skills to encourage the unofficial and semi-official persecution of people who “look as if they could conceivably be” illegal immigrants (h/t Sam Harris).

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