Trump’s border wall, if completed, will bisect North America from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The wall may slow down (but won’t stop) unauthorized border crossers, and it comes at a high price: the damage of public and private lands, destruction of border community economies, desecration of religious sites, and loss of wildlife.
No one disputes the need for border security. The question is, what form of border security is most effective? Certainly not a 21st century equivalent of the Great Wall of China. Instead of choosing the most effective and least destructive methods of border security available today, the Trump Administration has chosen a campaign prop for the 2020 election. How might Trump's wall fare against the actual threats we face on our borders today?
Preventing terrorism. The greatest threat of terrorism in our country today comes from homegrown domestic terrorists. There is no documented evidence that terrorists enter the U.S. by crossing the desert at the U.S./Mexico border. Although there have been cases of terrorists entering the U.S. (via water or air) on the Canadian border, no one has suggested building a wall between the U.S. and Canada.
Curbing the illegal drug trade. Mexican drug smugglers don’t typically cross the U.S. border in the middle of nowhere; they choose to smuggle hard drugs into the U.S. at our ports of entry. Preventing smuggling at ports of entry has thus become our top priority. A wall across the desert is hardly the best way to protect our ports of entry.
Preventing illegal immigration. People from Mexico and Central America want to enter the U.S. to escape poverty and unsafe conditions in their home countries. Upon arrival at the border, they typically surrender to the Border Patrol, waiting months for their cases to be heard. We want cheap labor, but at the same time, demonize those who provide it. Comprehensive immigration reform is long overdue, and this is the job of the U.S. Congress, not the Border Patrol.
We have argued that a wall across our southern border is not the best way to prevent terrorism, curb the illegal drug trade, or prevent illegal immigration. Now we must address the damages to our public lands, environmental health, and even our democracy in the name of building Trump’s wall.
In 2005 Congress passed “The Patriot Act,” which allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to waive ANY and ALL federal, state and local laws to expedite construction of a border wall. Congress granted this sweeping authority without any provision for oversight; DHS can thus waive any laws it chooses to when building the wall and needs answer to no one. Not only are the environmental laws that protect our lands and public health being waived (The Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, etc.), but the guiding principle of our democracy—the right of citizens to oversee their government—no longer pertains. Our democracy is at risk as never before..