Is it a wall, or is it a fence? Whichever you call it, the US-Mexico barrier is undoubtedly one of the most controversial projects of the Trump administration. Internal chasms and international tensions have increased since its proposal. And, from the looks of it, this will continue as its construction goes underway. Construction may not be in full swing, but its effects, especially in public discourse, have already reached a fever pitch. What’s more, according to border wall statistics, the wall is far from being completed.
This article, we hope, will provide you with a comprehensive yet digestible perspective of what is happening at the southern borders. We’ll give you the essential border wall data and facts. We will also lay down the issues plaguing the borders and the problems that arise from putting up a physical wall. In this way, you can understand its impact on the economy, society, and the environment. As such, you’ll have all the information you need should you ever want to make up your mind about the border wall debate.
Border Wall Statistics Table of Contents
A Brief History of the US Border Wall
An international border is primarily thought of as a geopolitical construct. It helps governments know which side of the land they control. It is international speak for the often misattributed saying: “your right to swing your fists ends where the other man’s nose begins.” And, in the case of the United States and Mexico, their shared border wasn’t always set. Critical events had to occur, and people died before the two governments agreed on which part of the land was American or Mexican.
A dynamic border
- Events from the Texas Revolution leading up to the Mexican-American war set the stage for the US to gain 1/3 of its present territory: the Texas annexation (390,000 sq mi), Oregon Country division (around 290,000 sq mi), and the Hidalgo-Guadalupe Treaty (more than 525,000 sq mi).
- The Gadsden Purchase in 1854 bought about 30,000 sq mi of northern Mexican territory for $10 million. These territories became southern Arizona and southern Mexico.
- Today, the US-Mexico border is 1,954 miles long. It stretches across four states: California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
Since the Beginning: Close Economic and Political Ties
While governments have come to terms on which nation owns which part of the land, they still have to deal with the new socioeconomic dynamics that borders bring. In the case of America, this balancing act continued for scores of years, even after the borders were officially established. This has been going on way before 1845.
After the Annexation of Texas to the United States in 1845, significant migration towards Mexico was the norm as Mexicans in Texas relocated to shrinking Mexico. However, come the 1890s, new industries in the US Southwest, like mining and agriculture, attracted Mexican migrant workers. Economics has always influenced unilateral mass immigration. And, also, politics.
During the Mexican Revolution (1910 to 1920), immigration to the US began to increase as refugees and exiles sought asylum. Many also flee to America to find more stability.
In the 1920s, Mexicans have become embedded in the American workforce. Many US farmers lobbied for Mexicans to be exempted from the quotas of the Immigration Act of 1924. And, they succeeded. However, just before the Great Depression, intense pressure came from the American Federation of Labor and municipal governments to reduce Mexican immigrants. And, many more legislations since then targeted immigrants coming from the southern border.
- The number of legal migrants grew during the 1910s to 20,000 per year. During the 1920s, the figure ballooned to around 50,000 to 100,000 migrants annually.
- After the Stock Market crashed, more than 400,000 people were repatriated to Mexico. Also, many repatriated individuals were US citizens by birth.
- President Nixon’s War on Drugs or Operation Intercept at one time caused retail business on the American side of the border to drop more than 50% at one time.
The Clinton Saga: Harsher Immigration
During the Clinton administration in 1993, Operation Gatekeeper was launched. The government started erecting walls and fences along the border in the hopes of decreasing the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants. The recession in Mexico also provided people incentives to cross the border legally and illegally.
In 1994, NAFTA was passed. Many believed that it would decrease the economic disparity between the US and Mexico. Thus, this would remove the incentives for Mexicans to cross the border. However, it had the opposite result. Mexico’s economy didn’t respond well to international shocks brought about by the agreement. Small businesses in Mexico cannot compete with the highly-subsidized American agriculture industry. This led to more border crossings.
In 1996, Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act. This increased fines for illegal entry. It also approved more funding for more fence construction and patrols.
- Experts estimate that there were more than 8,300 people that died trying to cross the border since Operation Gatekeeper began up to this day.
- There were 2.5 million Mexican illegal immigrants in the US in 1995. In 2006, the number went up to 8 million.
- Since passing the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Law, the budget for deportation sharply increased. In 1997, the budget was $1.9 or $3 billion adjusted for inflation. It rose to $21.1 billion by 2018.
- Another result of the abovementioned law is the increased number of Mexicans deported from the US. It was over the 50,000 range in 1996. In 2009, it reached more than 250,000 deportations.
From a Secure Fence to a “Beautiful Wall”
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 was signed into law by President George W. Bush. More than half of democrats voted for it, including Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama.
- Congress approved about $1.2 billion for the infrastructure proposed by the Secure Fence Act.
- This authorized the construction and the partial funding for 700 miles of fencing.
- The construction cost $7 per person while having a small reduction in migration and negligible effects on the economy: with high-skilled US workers losing around $4.60 annually and low-skilled workers gaining just about $0.36 per year.
The Obama administration, on the other hand, showed efforts to help legalize undocumented immigrants.
- Obama’s program called “deferred action” intended to allow around 45% of illegal immigrants to legally stay and have jobs in the US.
- In 2010, President Barack Obama cut the budget for funding of the computer-technology-assisted “virtual fence” along the borders.
- However, in 2014, Obama urged Congress to grant him $3.7 billion in emergency funds to help stave off the increase in illegal border crossings.
Donald Trump, after announcing his presidential bid in June 2015, quickly promoted his “America First” approach. This entailed the creation of a “big, beautiful” wall and guaranteed that Mexico will pay for it.
He won. He quickly wanted to build the wall.
At first, the wall seemed to be new construction and is thought of to be of concrete. Later, it looked like that in some parts of the barrier; the old fencing will just be updated. In some parts, new wall construction will be done.
- As of November 2019, only 24% of the 302 miles planned for federal land was finished. Also, only 7% of the 208 miles planned for private land was completed.
Source: The Washington Post, 2020
Meet Trump’s Wall: Issues, Border Wall Update, and Costs
In his election campaign, Donald Trump promised Americans that his administration would build a beautiful wall along the US-Mexico border. And, he claimed that Mexico would pay for it. This was too far-fetched for many. However, a few years into his administration, we now get to see what the border barrier really looks like. Moreover, we got to know who is actually paying for it.
The Logistical Issues
- The Trump administration proposed to cover 1,000 miles for its border wall, half of the border length.
- Also, there are about 650 miles divided by some sort of barrier already. Around half of this has X-shaped crossbars serving as barriers designed to stop vehicles and not people. Even as these are situated in harsh deserts, people can go over or under them to get through.
- Only about 350 miles of the full 2,000 border stretch have fencing designed to stop people.
- Experts estimate that the wall would be completed after 10 years with 10,000 workers.
Meet the New Wall: Border Wall Update
The structure is stronger than anything else built there before. It has steel bollards anchored in concrete. Also, they reach 18 to 30 feet in the air. This border wall system includes sensors, lighting, and cameras. Improved roads will also be added to have agents quickly respond to concerns. So far, almost all the new fencing is replacement fencing. Smaller and older vehicle barriers were swapped with a more elaborate border wall system.
- The existing barrier erected by previous administrations is 654 miles long. 221 of it will remain while barriers for 133 miles will be replaced. There are also 300 miles of vehicle barrier to be converted.
- There are 1,300 miles without any barrier yet. However, some areas are mostly mountainous. So, these are the non-priority areas for construction. The priority area for new construction, however, is 864 miles.
- The wall has been funded solely by the US government. Currently, the cost is almost $30 million per mile in Southern Texas.
- The overall goal of Trump’s administration will be to have 509 miles of a new or converted barrier by August 2021. By the end of 2020, it is expected that 450 miles of barrier will have been either upgraded or constructed.
- As of January 23, 2020, 110 miles were already completed, and 192 more miles are under construction.
Border Wall Cost
- In 2019, $9.8 billion has been secured by the Trump administration for the barrier construction since January 2017 for the 509 miles of the border wall system.
- Come 2020; there are three primary sources of funding. Wall construction has amassed $5.1 billion from the Department of Homeland Security’s routine appropriation, $3.6 billion from the Defense Department National Energy funding, and $2.5 billion from the Defense Department routine appropriation. Moreover, there are additional funds of $3.7 billion and $3.5 billion coming from the last two sources, respectively.
- Fund allocations to private contractors, as of November 14, 2019, are $1.77 billion to SWVC (Kiewit), $1.52 billion to SLSCO, $700 million to BFBC, $516 million to Southern Border Constructors, $400 million to Fisher Sand and Gravel, and $322 million to Barnard Construction, $297 to Caddell Construction, $25 million to SWF Constructors, and $25 million to West Point Contractors.
- In April 2020, several military construction projects that were put on hold because of the funds diverted to the southern border wall will be restarted. These include 22 currently deferred projects, and some are part of the European Deterrence Initiative aimed at countering Russia
Border Wall Sources of Funding
(in billion dollars)
Department of Homeland Security Routine Appropriation: 5.1
Department of Homeland Security Routine Appropriation
Defense Department National emergency funding: 3.6
Defense Department National emergency funding
Defense Department Routine appropriation: 2.5
Defense Department Routine appropriation
Planned additional funding Defense Department : 3.5
Planned additional funding Defense Department
Planned additional funding from Defense Department National : 3.7
Planned additional funding from Defense Department National
Source: The Washington Post, 2020Created by CompareCamp.com
Immigration Statistics: The Cost of Control
The United States of America may be deemed as a land of immigrants. However, this doesn’t mean that its government should let everyone come in. A nation’s economy and resources are limited, no matter how huge it is. You can’t pull resources out of thin air. Thus, governments must control the ebb and flow of immigrants and even refugees.
Refugees and Legal Immigrants
- From 1990 to 2019, the US has taken in more than 2.1 million refugees. The year 1992 registered the highest number of refugees of 132,531. Most came from East Asia and the former Soviet Union.
- The number of people naturalized in the US from 1990 to 2018 is at 18.1 million, with an average of 630,000 per year. The two years with the highest number of naturalizations are 2008 and 1996, both having more than 1 million.
- In 2018, a total of 1,096,611 people obtained lawful permanent resident status (green card). The majority of them came from North America and Asia. The country of origin that received the most tally for people receiving their green cards was Mexico at 161, 858. The second was Cuba at 76,486, and third was China at 65,214.
- From the year 2000 to 2019, the year 2000 registered 1.67 million alien apprehensions at the border. The lowest was in 2017 with 310,531, the year President Donald Trump took office.
- In 2018, the number of reported border apprehensions rose to 404,142. That’s a 30% increase, with 93,611 more apprehensions.
- Last year, 2019, the number skyrocketed to 859,401. This was the highest since 2010, when the reported numbers didn’t even reach 500,000.
Removals and Returns
Illegal alien “removals” is defined as a “compulsory and confined movement of deportable aliens.” This just means that they are removed from the US with an official court order of removal. On the other hand, alien “returns” do not involve a court order. And, returns are mostly applicable to those coming from the Canadian and Mexican borders.
- In the 90s, returns were significantly higher than removals. But, from the mid-2000s up to now, removals have gained steam, and returns keep decreasing. It was in 2010 that returns at 471,800, exceeded removals at 382,461.
- In 2018, there were 337,287 removals and only 109,083 returns.
- The year with the highest number of removals from 1990 to 2018 was in 2013 with 432,281. Returns that year were at 178,978.
- Also, the year 2000 has seen the most alien returns, in the same date range, with more than 1.6 million returns.
Trump’s new wall system seeks to address old problems: illegal immigration, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and the increase in crime because of bad illegal immigrants.
Source: US Department of Homeland Security
Drugs, Crime, and Illegal Immigration Issues
- Between 1990 and 2016, 224 drug tunnels were found under the US-Mexico border.
- On March 19, 2020, Federal agents seized about $30 million worth of illegal drugs from a smuggling tunnel that runs around a half-mile from San Diego to Tijuana Mexico. They found 1,300 pounds of cocaine, 86 pounds of meth, 17 pounds of heroin, more than 2 pounds of fentanyl, and about 3,000 pounds of marijuana. The tunnel is estimated to be 2,000 feet with an average depth of 31 feet. Also, several parts of it had reinforced walls, lighting, a rail system, and ventilation. This is the longest cross-border tunnel discovered in San Diego.
- In 2018, there were a total of 337,287 alien removals, and 44.3% of them have a prior criminal conviction. Of all those removed, 64.6% were from Mexico, with 217,919 removals. Also, 42% had previous convictions.
- Additionally, in 2018, total criminal alien removals were at 149,440, an increase of 26.4%. Moreover, 28.5% of the crimes committed had to do with illegal immigration. There were 42,563. Additionally, in the same year, authorities recorded 18,194 criminal removals related to dangerous drugs and 12,337 removals related to assaults. These were 12.2% and 8.3% of criminal removal incidences.
- The top three countries for alien returns are (1) Mexico, (2) Canada, and (3) the Philippines. In 2018, out of the 109,083 returns, 38.1% came from Mexico, 16.5% were from Canada, and 6.7% were from the Philippines.
Source: US Department of Homeland Security 2018
The Cost of Immigration Control
Immigration enforcement spending focuses on two issues: (1) border security and (2) interior enforcement. Border security budget includes spending for the staff and other resources of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). On the other hand, interior enforcement spending focuses on budgets for staffing and other resources of the US Immigration and Customs (ICE). Both agencies are under the Department of Homeland Security.
- Since the creation of the DHS back in 2003, ICE spending increased by more than 200%, from $3.3 billion to $7.6 billion in 2019.
- The budget for CBP, including the Border Patrol, has almost tripled, from $5.9 billion in 2003 to $17.1 billion in 2019.
- From 1993 onwards, the annual budget for the Border Patrol increased by more than 10 times. It was only $363 million back in 1993. In 2019, it was near $4.7 billion.
- Currently, the number of border and interior enforcement officers stands at more than 50,000. And, ICE and CBP employ more than 80,000 people.
- The number of dedicated ICE agents working for the office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) almost tripled from 2003 to 2018. In 2018, DHS employed more than 7,700 ERO agents.
Is immigration a problem?
- In 2019, a Gallup survey asked Americans whether immigrants mostly help the economy by providing low-cost labor or mostly hurt it by driving down wages for Americans. 55% answered that immigrants mostly help, while 37% mostly hurt.
- Also, 60% of Republicans think immigration is hurting the economy while 72% of Democrats and 58% of independents think it helps.
- 57% of Americans think that in the areas of food, music, and art, immigrants would make the situation better. 32% feel that there will be no effects, and 10% believe they will make it worse.
- In the area of social and moral values, 31% believe that immigrants will make it better, while 28% think that they will make it worse. 39% believe that they will have no effect.
- 56% of Americans believe that the influx of more immigrants will have no effect when it comes to job opportunities for them and their families, while 25% believe that it will have negative effects. Only 19% feel that immigrants will have a positive effect.
- On taxes and the crime situation, 47% of Americans say that immigrants will make the situation worse. 50% believe that there will be no effect in the crime situation, while 37% think that more immigrants coming in will have no effect on their taxes. Only 20% believe that immigrants will make taxes better, while a mere 7% think that immigrants will make the crime situation better.
Source: Gallup, 2019
US Public Opinions On The Wall: How Many are on the Fence?
Let’s not forget that the US-Mexico border issue has existed for ages. Tensions were definitely there even before the Mexican-American war started. So, today’s public opinion on the wall wasn’t born yesterday. It was fostered (or festered) for many years and under different administrations from President James K. Polk to current President Trump.
Also, ideas and sentiments that inform these opinions have many different influences from the Texan War of Independence, Nixon’s Drug War, the Hippie Revolution, and today’s political milieu. Moreover, around 50% of the US population has lived through the Nixon administration. Thus, opinions shaped by past events and cultural phenomena are still here. And they are very sticky.
- 40% of Americans are in favor of building a wall along the US-Mexico border. 40% of them are males, and 36% are females.
- 44% oppose the building of the wall. Of them, 41% are males, and 47% are females.
- Only 16% of Americans are not sure about their position about the wall and how it can stop illegal immigration.
- 43% of registered voters are in favor of the border wall, 49% oppose the wall, and 8% are not sure about it.
- 51% of Americans aged 65 are in favor. 41% are opposed to the wall, while 8% are undecided about the issue.
- For people aged 45 to 64, 46% of them are in favor of Trump’s new wall. 43% are opposed to it, while 11% are not sure about their position.
- Only 33% of people aged 30 to 44 want the wall built. 43% of this age group opposes it, while 23% are not sure about it.
- About 28% of people aged 18 to 29 are in favor of the wall being built. A whopping 51% of this age group oppose it while 22% are not entirely sure of their positions.
Income and Education
- 39% of people with an annual income of less than $50,000 agree with the border wall project. Also, 39% of people in the same income bracket are opposed to Trump’s wall, while 22% don’t take any categorical position.
- 37% of Americans with an annual income of $50,000-100,000 are in favor of the program, while 53% are opposed to it. Also, 10% are not sure about their positions.
- Around 44% of people with a yearly income of $100,000 or more support the US-Mexico border barrier being built. 52% of them oppose it, while 4% are not sure.
- 44% of those with a college education are in favor of the wall. 50% are against it. Only 6% are not sure.
- Among people with some college education, 43% of them are in favor of the wall. Also, another 43% are opposed to it, while 14% are not sure about their positions.
- 38% of people who have had high school education or less are in favor. 37% are opposed to the wall, and 25% are not sure about it.
- Only 34% of those that had postgraduate education are in favor of the wall being built. A majority of 61% are opposed to Trump’s wall. Only 4% are not sure or have no categorical position about it.
Ideology and Political Party
- 78% of conservatives are in favor of building the wall. Only 11% are opposed to it. The rest are not sure about it.
- 37% that are political moderates are in favor of the border wall. Most of them, at 46%, are opposed to it. 17% are not sure have not categorical positions about it.
- Only 9% of liberals are in favor of the wall. A whopping 85% oppose it, while 6% are not so sure about the issue.
- 86% of Republicans are in favor of the border barrier. Only 7% oppose it, and the other 7% are not sure.
- 39% of Independents are in favor of the wall. 36% oppose it, and 26% of them are not sure about their stance on the wall.
- While only 13% of Democrats want that wall erected, 79% are opposed to it. Only 8% don’t have a categorical position about Trump’s wall.
- 88% of people that voted Republican in the primary election are in favor of the wall being built. Only 7% that voted Republican oppose the border wall. The other 7% are not sure.
Race and Region
- About 47% of Caucasians are in favor of building the wall. 40% are opposed to it, while 14% are not sure.
- Only 17% of the African-American population wants the wall erected. 63% do not agree, while 21% are not sure.
- About 25% of Hispanics agree with Trump’s wall. 57% of them are against it. And 18% don’t have a particular position.
- For people of other races, 43% want the wall built. Only 27% are opposed to it, and 30% are not sure about the issue.
- In the Northeast region, 31% are in favor of the wall. 51% are in opposition to it, while 17% are not sure about their stance.
- Around 46% of the Midwest population are in favor of the border wall, while 41% are opposed to it. The rest, at 12%, are not sure.
- 42% from the South agree that the wall should be built while 41% don’t agree. 17% don’t have a categorical answer.
- Only 39% of those who live out West are in favor of the wall. 47% of citizens there oppose Trump’s wall. Only 14% are not sure about the wall and how it can help stop illegal immigration.
Source: Gallup, 2020
Although we have these figures, we don’t know precisely the reasons behind their categorical positions. Also, a definite “yes, no, or not sure survey” does not accurately represent the many nuanced views of the American public. Sure, some act on partisan politics and have rooted ideologies in this border wall debate. But, even then, some do have different takes. Even those who answered not sure may have more complex views. Maybe, they exercise more prudence. However, with 40% and 44% of the population either for or against it, respectively, and with 16% seem to be on the fence, it looks like America is virtually split right in the middle.
Uncertain Territory: Implications of the Border Wall Construction
Walls do not only act as barriers. They also exist to grant a sense of safety and control. However, they are there primarily to divide. It aims to keep the things you want in and keep the things you don’t want out. There are merits to this physical division, especially on the US-Mexico border. A border wall system may not keep drug and human traffickers out. However, it can serve as a deterrence and countermeasure. But, there are also other pressing concerns, such as the negative effects of putting up that wall:
- Dividing Tribal Nations. In the US-Mexico border, there are tribes with ancestral lands on both sides. There are approximately seven other indigenous peoples that were divided by the establishment of the US-Mexico border. These include the Yaqui, the Apaches, and the Kickapoo, among others. Today, many have to deal with fencing. With a wall, it will be harder to cross.
- Disrupting Ecology. With a wall, wildlife migration will be restricted. In fact, only five jaguars have been spotted in Arizona since 1996, and none were confirmed to be female. A wall would hinder male jaguars from connecting with female jaguars to help boost their population.
- Dividing Wildlife Refuges and Parks. For instance, the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, will have to divide its 100-acre sanctuary with nearly 70% of it on the Mexican side.
- Economic Disruption. In 2011, the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that activities, such as fishing, hunting, and wildlife-watching, accounted for nearly $26 billion to border state economies. Additionally, the border wall could catch debris and cause flooding in Texas.
The implications of the border wall construction, from its physical system to the policies and execution of them, is a complex issue. It has more nuances than extremely partisan citizens could admit. Economic repercussions, whether positive or negative, are relative to every person. For instance, some companies may profit from cheaper labor, but others may get run out of business because they can’t compete. There is no blanket solution.
However, there is no disputing the facts and numbers. There are problems to be fixed when it comes to illegal immigration. Maybe immigrant-related crimes are not at historically crisis levels, but they still exist. The answer may not be Trump’s wall. But, a type of barrier may also be part of the solution. For now, it is speculation. We cannot truly know until we get there. It is still an uncertain territory.
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