News agency Reuters released an exclusive look at the early Department of Homeland Security report on the US-Mexico Wall project. The report was required by President Trump through executive order last month, and has not been officially presented to the Oval Office. But Reuters has obtained a final draft and leaked the key components of the report, stating the official one should be presented “within days.”
The project is estimated to cost $21.6 billion and will take three and a half years. This is based on the assumption that Congress will approve funding by the end of this spring, which would allow DHS to begin bidding contractors over the summer. If this timeline falls properly into place, construction could begin this September, and would wrap up neatly in time for Trump’s re-election.
Currently, there is adequate border protection in many places, taking up about 654 miles of the 1,954 miles of United States- Mexico border. The wall would connect these sections, covering 1,250 additional miles. But the construction is an overly ambitious project that brings up new concerns.
The first is topography. Some of the border area is mountainous. The Franklin Mountain Range extends 23 miles through El Paso and into New Mexico. New Mexico and Arizona have flatter terrain, but on into California, near Tijuana, are several ranges -grouped together as the Peninsular Range. Through these mountains, a lot of it is not accessible by road, making it difficult, if not impossible, to build in these areas.
Then there are environmental concerns that would have to be addressed. Much of the border is undeveloped desert, and some of it, especially through New Mexico, is National Park area, such as the Coronado National Park. This will bring up all sorts of regulatory problems, such as grazing rights, animal protection preserves, wildlife habitat, among others. Waivers would have to be procured, which could also get stalled out in EPA regulations. This could cause political problems for Trump, as he would have to fight environmentalists to push the project through.
Land ownership creates another issue. Much of the addressed area runs through privately owned land. Eminent domain contracts would have to be secured. These could take lengthy court battles that would halt progress. Not to mention, the political problems it would create. It would give anti-Trump media myriads of human interest stories of little farming families destroyed by big government. For families that live along the border, and have for generations, they likely have family, friends and business interests on both sides, and have loyalties to both countries. Walling them in or out, will conjure up images reminiscent of East and West Germany under the Berlin Wall. Can Trump survive the political fallout?
Then there’s the water problem. Some areas, like the Rio Grande River, are shared waters. Construction would be regulated through the US-Mexico pact International Boundary and Water Commission. The treaty was enacted in 1889 and regulates the governance of the Rio Grande River and Colorado River as it relates to the border regions. Engineers, lawyers, and government officials from both countries govern all aspects of the river, including development, levees, water distribution, dams and hydroelectricity.
Given that the United States wants Mexico to reimburse the government for the cost of the wall against their will, such negotiations are not likely to be favorable. Early estimates are that the treaty’s provisions would set the wall cost at about $11 million per mile through the water, in regulatory fees alone.
Then there’s the whole Mexico problem. Mexico will likely fight the wall the whole way through. The Washington Post reports that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto stated last week to diplomats, he “will not pay for the wall.” This is the diplomatic language of incumbent politicians. His, and his countrymen’s, sentiments are more likely echoed by former President Vicente Fox who Tweeted, “TRUMP, when will you understand that I am not paying for that [f—-n] wall.”
The Washington Post further reports that Trump could actually make Mexico pay for it through a border adjustment tax. This would tax imports, and refund it through exports for most countries. But, since Mexico already has a $60 billion trade deficit with the United States, taxing them for imports would raise $13 billion to be applied to the wall. Trump is not a fan of the border adjustment tax, but given the taxpayers reaction to the price tag on the wall, he may cave when he has to find the money. After all, our economy is already strapped, and $21 billion is about what we spend on nuclear defense.
The inflated price tag over the original $10 billion and timeline on the Trump campaign trail is largely because the DHS does take into account these issues. The estimates specifically account for what it would take to acquire private land through eminent domain, and push waivers through EPA. Outside of those concerns, the DHS plan lays out a three phase project. The first would be 26 miles in three places—near San Diego, El Paso, and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
The second phase would cover 151 miles. It would finish in the Rio Grande Valley, and also in Laredo, Texas, Tuscon Arizona, and several areas through Texas. The final phase is the most ambitious and may take the longest. It would finish the final 1,080 miles of border, through Arizona, New Mexico, and the rest of California.
The final phase would be the most costly, and estimates are likely that if Trump could complete the first phase, at around $400 million, it would be enough politically to guarantee re-election.
Neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security will comment on the report, stating that since it has not yet been presented it is too early to comment. Although Trump did tell reporters on Wednesday that, “The wall is being designed right now.”