Weighing the Pros and Cons of U.S.-Mexico Border Barrier

Immigration Issue Affects Economy, Human Lives and Message to the World

Views Of The Existing U.S. Mexico Border Wall
Bloomberg Creative Photos / Getty Images

The southern border of the United States shared with Mexico spans almost 2,000 miles. Walls, fences, and virtual walls of sensors and cameras monitored by the U.S. Border Patrol are already built along one-third of the border (approximately 650 miles) to secure the border and cut down on illegal immigration.

Americans are split on the border barrier issue. While most people are in favor of increasing the security of the borders, others are concerned that the negative impacts do not outweigh the benefits. The U.S. government views the Mexican border as an important part of its overall homeland security initiative. Despite the criticism, the U.S. government views the Mexican border as an important part of its overall homeland security initiative. However, as one of his first official acts, President Joe Biden, ordered a “pause” in further construction of border wall. 

Cost of the Border Barrier

The price tag currently sits at $7 billion for border fencing and related infrastructure like pedestrian and vehicle fencing with lifetime maintenance is expected to cost roughly $50 billion.

The Trump Administration and Mexican Border Enhancement

As a major part of his platform during the 2016 presidential campaign, President Donald Trump called for the construction of a much larger, fortified wall along the entire 2,000-mile-long Mexico–United States border, claiming Mexico would pay for its construction, which he estimated at $8 to $12 billion. Other estimates brought the cost of the wall closer to $15 to $25 billion. On January 25, 2017, the Trump administration signed a Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Executive Order to commence the building of the border wall.

In response, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said his country would not pay for the wall under any circumstances and canceled a scheduled meeting with Trump at the White House, seemingly straining relations between the two presidents.

With the possibility of Mexico paying for any part of the wall apparently off the table, the Trump administration used existing funds to begin construction of a small section of the new wall, along with improvements to existing sections of the wall in early March 2018.

On March 23, 2018, President Trump signed an omnibus government spending bill dedicating $1.6 billion to the construction of the remainder of the wall. As he signed the bill, Trump referred to the $1.6 billion as “an initial down payment” on the estimated nearly $10 billion needed to fence the entire border. The funds will pay for construction of about 25 miles (40 kilometers) of a new wall along levees in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, as well as repair and upgrades to existing walls and anti-vehicle devices. 

The Great 2019 Border Wall Government Shutdown

The issue of the border barrier, and especially the politics behind it, escalated dramatically in January 2019, when Congress refused to include $5.7 billion requested by President Trump for the construction of steel border fencing in a bill funding the operations of nine of the 15 federal executive branch agencies.

On December 22, 2019, the resulting stalemate between the White House and the now Democrat-controlled House resulted in what, by January 12, had become the longest lasting government shutdown in U.S. history. On January 8, President Trump, calling the situation on the Mexican border a “humanitarian crisis,” threatened to declare a national emergency, allowing him to go around Congress by ordering the use of already allocated funds for construction of the border barrier.

In a letter to Congress, the White House Office of Management and Budget estimate that the funds requested by President Trump would allow for the construction of about 234 miles of steel fencing to be added to what was by then the 580 miles of barrier already in place at a cost of around $24.4 million per mile, exclusive of ongoing maintenance.

While the resulting 814 miles of barrier fencing would leave approximately 1,140 miles of the 1,954-mile long border still free of barriers, the Department of Homeland Security had earlier stated that not all of the remaining border needed to be fenced. Border Patrol officials suggested that the inherent dangers of trying to cross rugged, desolate desert areas on foot made fencing unnecessary.

On January 19, Democrats rejected another immigration reform and border security package offered by President Trump, refusing to negotiate until and unless he ended the government shutdown.

On February 15, 2019, President Trump signed a compromise Homeland Security spending bill providing $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new border fencing. The same day, he made good on his threat to declare a national emergency to build the wall. Under the terms of the emergency proclamation, $3.6 billion was redirected from the Defense Department’s military construction budget to the construction of new border wall. In addition, he used executive orders to redirect another $3.1 billion from the Departments of Defense and Treasury’s drug interdiction programs to wall building. White House officials said the combined money would pay for at least 234 miles “of new physical barrier” along the border.

While no further details were provided, President Trump stated in a Twitter post on March 8, 2019, that, “The Wall is being built and is well under construction.”

History of the Border Barrier

In 1924, Congress created the U.S. Border Patrol. Illegal immigration increased in the late 1970s, but it was in the 1990s when drug trafficking and illegal immigration had a major uptick and concerns about the nation's security became an important issue. Border Control agents and the military succeeded in reducing the number of smugglers and illegal crossings for a period of time, but once the military left, activity again increased.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., homeland security was again a priority. Many ideas were tossed around during the next few years on what could be done to permanently secure the border. And, in 2006, the Secure Fence Act was passed to build 700 miles of double-reinforced security fencing in areas along the border prone to drug trafficking and illegal immigration. President Bush also deployed 6,000 National Guardsmen to the Mexico border to assist with border control.

Reasons for the Border Barrier

Historically, policing borders has been integral to the preservation of nations around the globe for centuries. The construction of a barrier to safeguard American citizens from illegal activities is considered by some to be in the best interest of the nation. The pros of a border barrier include overall homeland security, the cost of lost tax revenue and strain on government resources and the past successes of border enforcement.

Rising Cost of Illegal Immigration

Illegal immigration is estimated to cost the United States millions of dollars, and according to Trump, $113 billion a year in lost income tax revenue. Illegal immigration is considered a strain on government spending by overburdening social welfare, health, and education programs.

Border Enforcement Past Success

The use of physical barriers and high-tech surveillance equipment increases the probability of apprehension and have shown some success. Arizona has been the epicenter of crossings by illegal immigrants for several years. In one year, authorities apprehended 8,600 people trying to enter the U.S. illegally in the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range used for air-to-ground bombing practice by Air Force pilots.

The number of people caught crossing San Diego's border illegally has also dropped dramatically. In the early 1990s, about 600,000 people attempted to cross the border illegally. After the construction of a fence and increased border patrols, that number dropped to 39,000 in 2015.

Reasons Against the Border Barrier

The question of the effectiveness of a physical barrier that has workarounds is a significant concern to those opposed to a border barrier. The barrier has been criticized for being easy to get around. Some methods include digging under it, sometimes using complex tunnel systems, climbing the fence and using wire cutters to remove barbed-wire or locating and digging holes in vulnerable sections of the border. Many people have also traveled by boat through the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Coast or fly in and overstay their visas.

There are other concerns such as the message it sends to our neighbors and the rest of the world and the human toll of crossing the border. In addition, a border wall affects wildlife on both sides, fragmenting the habitat and disrupting essential animal migration patterns. 

Message to the World

A segment of the American population feels that the United States should send a message of freedom and hope to those seeking a better way of life instead of sending a "keep out" message at our border. It is suggested that the answer does not lie in barriers; it entails comprehensive immigration reform, which means these immigration issues need fixing, instead of building fences, which are as effective as putting a bandage on a gaping wound.

In addition, a border barrier divides the land of three indigenous nations.

Human Toll on Crossing the Border

Barriers won't stop people from wanting a better life. And in some cases, they're willing to pay the highest price for the opportunity. People smugglers, called "coyotes," charge astronomical fees for passage. When smuggling costs rise, it becomes less cost-effective for individuals to travel back and forth for seasonal work, so they remain in the U.S. Now the whole family must make the trip to keep everyone together. Children, infants and the elderly attempt to cross. The conditions are extreme and some people will go for days without food or water. According to the Human Rights National Commission of Mexico and the American Civil Liberties Union, almost 5,000 people have died attempting to crossing the border between 1994 and 2007.

Environmental Impact

Most environmentalists oppose the border barrier. Physical barriers hinder migrating wildlife, and plans show the fence will fragment wildlife refuges and private sanctuaries. Conservation groups are appalled that the Department of Homeland Security is bypassing dozens of environmental and land-management laws in order to build the border fence. More than 30 laws are being waived, including the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Biden Order Paused Wall Construction, Funding

On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden made good on one of his campaign promises issuing an executive order pausing further work on all construction on the southern border wall and cutting off further funding for the construction of the wall.

“Like every nation, the United States has a right and a duty to secure its borders and protect its people against threats,” he wrote. “But building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border is not a serious policy solution. It is a waste of money that diverts attention from genuine threats to our homeland security.”

Biden’s order also rescinded former President Donald Trump’s February 2019 national declaration of a national emergency at the southern border.

A cornerstone of his 2016 election campaign, President Trump accomplished construction of about 450 miles of new wall. Today, over 700 miles of both old and new wall line the nearly 2,000-mile-long border. As he has done in the past, President Biden made it clear he had intention of removing any of the existing border walls.

Updated by Robert Longley

View Article Sources
  1. United States, Congress, Painter, William L., and Audrey Singer. “DHS Border Barrier Funding.” Congressional Research Service. 29 Jan. 2020.

  2. Kessler, Glenn. “Trump's Dubious Claim That His Border Wall Would Cost $8 Billion.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 11 Feb. 2016.

  3. Geniesse, Peter A. "Illegal: NAFTA Refugees Forced to Flee." iUniverse, 3 Feb. 2010.

  4. Kate Drew, special to CNBC.com. “This Is What Trump's Border Wall Could Cost.” CNBC, CNBC, 26 Jan. 2017.

  5. Davis, Julie Hirschfeld, and Michael. “Trump Signs Spending Bill, Reversing Veto Threat and Avoiding Government Shutdown.” The New York Times, 23 Mar. 2018.

  6. Cochrane, Emily, and Catie Edmondson. “Border Security, Foreign Aid and a Raise for Federal Workers: What You Need to Know About the Spending Package.” The New York Times, 14 Feb. 2019.

  7. The Funds Available to Address the National Emergency at Our Border.” The White House, The United States Government, 26 Feb. 2019.

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McFadyen, Jennifer. "Weighing the Pros and Cons of U.S.-Mexico Border Barrier." ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2021, thoughtco.com/mexico-border-fence-pros-and-cons-1951541. McFadyen, Jennifer. (2021, September 9). Weighing the Pros and Cons of U.S.-Mexico Border Barrier. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/mexico-border-fence-pros-and-cons-1951541 McFadyen, Jennifer. "Weighing the Pros and Cons of U.S.-Mexico Border Barrier." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/mexico-border-fence-pros-and-cons-1951541 (accessed June 2, 2023).