As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump repeatedly promised Mexico would shoulder the cost of the border wall as a way to keep out undocumented immigrants. In turn, Mexico has refused to foot the bill.
Now, as President Trump’s 2018 fiscal year budget plan rolls out Tuesday, it will include a $1.6 billion request for the “actual bricks and mortar construction” for his proposed border wall, as part of a total $2.6 billion request for border protection, Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Monday.
The request, formally submitted to Congress on Tuesday, is nearly half the $4.1 billion amount for border wall construction called for in the skinny version of a budget blueprint released in March. The $2.6 billion, which would be used for new infrastructure and technology investments, includes payment for wall construction through the end of 2018. In the current fiscal year, the White House has already requested $1.5 billion to repair and upgrade existing fencing, to fix roads, and to plan for a “more extensive barrier,” the Dallas News reported.
Trump’s promise to build a wall spanning the entire length of the southern U.S. border may never happen, as U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly previously predicted “[i]t’s unlikely that we will build wall or a physical barrier from sea to shining sea.”
“We haven’t seen a plan on why the border wall is needed, where the border wall is needed,” Joshua Breisblatt, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, said. “They haven’t really given any justification or any reason as to why they need it.”
Last year, Trump quoted $8 billion for wall construction, a figure much too low for contractors who estimate that the actual cost hews closer to $25 billion. That figure also doesn’t account for additional surveillance needed to watch the border. What’s more, the Governmental Accountability Office estimated in 2009 that it costs anywhere between $2.8 million and $3.9 million to build one mile of fencing in easy terrain, or near metropolitan areas. In places with “difficult terrain,” the report estimated it cost about $16 million per mile.
“At $16 million a mile, you’re talking something much closer to $21 billion [total],” Breisblatt said. “There are a lot of things that are hard to calculate. We haven’t seen the prototypes so we don’t know what type of wall they are building. A lot of building has to happen in much more remote areas. Currently, a lot of the wall built is closer to metropolitan areas so paying for labor and costs and getting things out to these more remote areas sounds like it’ll be a lot more complicated than people have been able to figure out.”
Currently, 650 miles of border wall exist thanks in large part to the Secure Fence Act of 2006 signed by President George W. Bush and mostly put in place under the Obama administration. But the construction for a border wall came under much different circumstances in 2006 when border crossings were at an all-time high.
“There was a sense at the time that the mileage identified for fencing was to carry out a strategic goal of driving people further away from metropolitan areas where they could more easily blend into the environment and disappear,” Tom Jawetz, the vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, said in late April.
“The idea for the fencing was for people to travel further out areas that would by virtue of their natural dangers serve as a deterrent to crossing,” Jawetz added. “There’s been a lot of documentation in the years since that that strategy did effectively drive people into more dangerous areas and resulted in many hundreds of deaths.”
Additional wall construction is also unnecessary given the way immigrants now come into the United States. The number of Mexicans apprehended along the southern U.S. border dropped to the lowest levels in nearly 50 years in the 2015 fiscal year, accounting for 188,122 apprehensions that year. What’s more, in the 2016 fiscal year, 739,478 foreign nationals came in legally and overstayed their admission, according to DHS data released Monday, which accounts for anyone who did not have a recorded departure at any period of time after their visa expired.
What’s more, many people who do show up at the border turn themselves in to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, with the hopes of availing themselves to some form of humanitarian relief that would allow them to stay permanently, Jawetz pointed out.
“ We are not seeing people in large numbers at all who are crossing the border in an effort to stay here permanently without evading detection,” Jawetz said.
(ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news website housed at the Center for American Progress.)