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With just weeks until his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump signaled his seriousness about securing the nation’s southern border via a wide-ranging request for Department of Homeland Security documents on the current border barrier situation.
According to a report from Reuters, the incoming administration is also seeking information on possibilities for increasing detention rates for illegal immigrants caught attempting to cross the border and adding more aerial surveillance along the border.
From the report:
The requests were made in a Dec. 5 meeting between Trump’s transition team and Department of Homeland Security officials, according to an internal agency memo reviewed by Reuters. The document offers a glimpse into the president-elect’s strategy for securing the U.S. borders and reversing polices put in place by the Obama administration.
Trump’s transition team did not comment in response to Reuters inquiries. A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment.
In response to the transition team request, U.S. Customs and Border Protection staffers identified more than 400 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border, and about the same distance along the U.S.-Canada border, where new fencing could be erected, according to a document seen by Reuters.
Immigrant detention and surveillance efforts in many areas along the nation’s southern border were scaled back by the Obama administration, which led many disaffected Customs and Border Protection officers to express public support for Trump during the election.
While campaigning, Trump said he intends to undo several of Obama’s efforts to chill Border Patrol’s ability to apprehend illegal immigrants along the border in addition to constructing a wall.
Trump’s border wall is certainly not going to be built overnight—it also won’t be cheap.
DHS estimates that adding just 413 miles of fencing to the southwest border to deter vehicles and pedestrians will cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $11.5 billion. But just to close gaps in the existing border fence, many of which are along the Texas/Mexico border, the federal government would need to install closer to 1,300 miles of additional border fencing.
The Associated Press last January explained what happened when border officials scrambled to close some of those gaps to fulfill requirements of Congress’s 2006 Secure Fence Act:
Officials overseeing the wall’s construction faced a legal and logistical nightmare from the start, according to emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and litigation by Denise Gilman, a law professor at the University of Texas. The hundreds of emails, which Gilman shared with the Associated Press, show that from the planning phase some 65 miles of the proposed route sat a half mile to a mile from the border, making it not a true border wall.
Officials struggled to find places where construction could start fast to meet Congress’ deadline of building 255 miles by December 2008. They sought contingency fencing that did not require “significant real estate acquisitions” or cut through sensitive wilderness, the emails show. Wealthy landowners demanded more compensation or refused to allow construction.
Hundreds of property owners were sued just to build the existing chunks of wall. Some 400 relinquished properties ranging in size from a driveway to commercial lots and farms, costing the government at least $15m, according to an AP review of land cases in 2012.
The Trump administration’s real challenge is not the construction of some symbolic wall to please voters who fancy bombast over actual results in quelling illegal immigration numbers. Rather, Trump needs to find the most economical way to patch massive holes along the border without trampling on the property rights of border landowners and resorting to unconstitutional actions to quell illegal immigration.
In other words, “build the wall” is a vast oversimplification of a complex problem.