How many times have you started a home improvement project and then found your budget for said project was totally unrealistic? Sometimes, it’s just smarter to stop the whole venture, take the loss and cover up the mess with some plywood or paint. Maybe you tell yourself you’ll get back to it someday.
That is where we are with the border wall between the United States and Mexico. Except nothing can cover up the landscape’s scarred, unfinished sections of this project.
The promise of a “big, beautiful” wall to curb illegal entry into the U.S. was one of President Donald Trump’s signature issues during the 2016 campaign. He said Mexico would pay for the wall. It didn’t. But Mexico was persuaded to pay to deploy thousands of its security forces, helicopters and boats to patrol its side of the border. Mexico also agreed to pay for deportation flights and a program that keeps immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. in Mexico while they await their court date in America.
That could be considered payment toward curbing a mutual problem. It would be like a kind benefactor who, upon learning of your costly home improvement project, stepped in to pay outsiders to help lessen your burden. But the financial responsibility of completing the project would still be up to you.
For right now, construction on the wall continues. The last tally from Customs and Border Protection reported that 423 miles of wall have been completed — less than the current administration promised, but still a considerable feat when you see the gigantic 30-foot-tall steel and concrete barrier that now snakes along the U.S.-Mexican border.
There have been massive complaints and cost overruns. Environmentalists and reluctant landowners are furious about disruptions to terrain and wildlife and being forced into “eminent domain” sales of property that, in some cases, had been in families for generations.
What was originally touted as an $8 billion to $12 billion project ballooned by extra billions in cost overruns. A recent ProPublica/Texas Tribune review of federal spending data for the wall estimates that if a total of 738 miles of wall were built, that would translate to roughly $20 million a mile.
President-elect Joe Biden seems adamant about stopping the project immediately as he reverses Trump’s immigration strategies. “There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration,” Biden told reporters a few months ago. But now it’s clear it won’t be easy to simply pull the plug on the most costly wall the world has ever seen.
First, the government cannot just ignore the contracts it awarded to more than a dozen construction companies now doing wall-related work. Those firms will be entitled to compensation for the cost of withdrawing equipment and crews from work zones. How much will that cost taxpayers? That is unknown at this point, but it will surely be multiple millions (or more) in contract termination fees.
Second, the Biden administration now says the incoming president favors installing sensors, lighting, cameras and other surveillance technology along the border. Will they be able to modify current contracts for those installations, or will new agreements with other companies have to be reached? If it is the latter, then taxpayers will wind up paying a) for no work to be done and b) for a new, untested idea to curb illegal entries.
Either way, the taxpayer gets double-billed once again. And what about the cost of maintaining the miles of wall that have already been built? Will politics dictate that they be left unattended? What a waste, if that happens.
This country has a long-standing problem with illegal immigration. It should have been seriously addressed decades ago. While each of the last five administrations did construct border walls or barriers along our southern border, they were obviously not enough to encourage migrants to enter through the legal process. Biden seems determined to break the pattern of a border barricade by employing all manners of technological monitoring.
But I have a question. Since those determined to cross the border into the U.S. illegally will likely choose a route around any existing wall, I can’t help but wonder something that seems so obvious. If there is no wall, where will Biden’s lights, sensors and the other gadgets be mounted? On trees, perhaps?
— Diane Dimond is the author of three books, including Be Careful Who You Love Inside the Michael Jackson Case, which is now updated with new chapters and is available as an audiobook. Contact her at [email protected], or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.