One of candidate Donald Trump’s best response-getters is his promise to build a wall on the southern border. The phrase “build the wall” has become a chant and a mantra to his legions. But for all its symbolic resonance and potential ability to complicate the logistics of entering the United States illegally, a physical wall, however well-constructed, may be the least effective means a President Trump would have of stopping illegal immigration.
With Trump’s comprehensive plan for immigration reform already calling for the enforcement of existing laws, and replete with new proposals like Trump’s version of Bill O’Reilly’s Kate’s Law, one has to wonder if a wall would even be necessary if everything else in the plan was enacted.
To citizens fed up with mass undocumented immigration, a wall sounds like just what the doctor ordered. But how effective would a physical wall be?
Immigration attorney Francisco Hernandez has openly scoffed at the idea of keeping people out with a barrier wall, promising Monica Crowley and others that illegal immigrants will continue to simply go over, under, around and through it. Though I oppose Hernandez’s path-to-citizenship activism, I agree with him on this.
Here’s one scenario: The forty-foot extension ladder ($400-$500) is the highest ladder commonly available at home improvement retailers. Factoring a theoretical border wall height of 50 feet, and assuming there are no secure projections at the top of the wall to secure a rope climb, any capable climber with a forty-foot ladder and rappelling rope could breach the wall within minutes. After scaling the ladder and cutting any razor wire, the climber secures the rope to the ladder’s highest rung and rappels down the other side. For the lone climber, the ladder and rope are the price to pay for entry into America.
What if the wall is higher than 50 feet? The highest legally allowable ladder height in the California Department of Industrial Relations Code of Regulations is the reinforced plastic two-section extension ladder, at 72 feet. As long as a ladder exists capable of scaling a wall, the wall will be scaled. For those hardy enough to go over the top, breach points will be maneuverable, and speed will be of the essence.
Ladder work will be a lot easier than digging, but for those unable to climb for whatever reason, dig they will, successfully. Several models have the foundation of the border wall sunk five to six feet into the ground. El Chapo’s henchmen dug down 35 feet to free the drug kingpin.
Most illegal immigrants and drug traffickers will go around any new wall between the United States and Mexico, using every tactic from boat launches to makeshift airstrips to already egregiously abused visa overstays. Going through a wall built by the Trump Organization (either by ramming or explosives) will not be easy, and such breaches will likely be discovered and repaired quickly, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Ironically, if every other tenet of Trump’s immigration plan is also in effect, there will be very little reason for non-criminal, job-seeking illegal aliens to bother with any of this. Even if they evade every countermeasure, the employment possibilities and sanctuary cities will have dried up.
Mr. Trump has mentioned Israel’s West Bank barrier and the Great Wall of China when extolling the virtues of building a wall. The analogies are compelling, but strained. For Israel, we’re talking about a reasonably defendable line of demarcation. In the case of the Great Wall, contemporary immigrants have transportation and communications options undreamed of by the ancient Asiatics.
We’ve got continent-spanning borders north and south, two big oceans, and a universe of air space. Worrisome too are the natural barriers wall builders claim make a continuous wall—all 1,989 miles of it–unnecessary. While the roughest terrain between the two countries can be challenging, there are no Mount Everests or sharks with laser beams attached to their heads between Mexico and the United States. Desperate immigrants will find a way.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear. If our presumptive nominee wants to build a wall, I’ll support him in the endeavor. Given the ever more dangerous world we live in, count me in for the estimated $77 that it will cost every American. I’ll also admit that while a wall by itself may only put a dent in illegal immigration, it will certainly slow some of it down.
But I think we have to be realistic about what we expect to get out of the physical reality of a wall. One standpoint is to imagine that the wall will be the only facet of Trump’s plan that becomes law. I don’t think our sovereignty would be secured from an illegal invasion under that circumstance, so the question becomes, what exactly will the wall accomplish?
It is possible that the wall’s main effect will be to symbolically signal that the promise Lady Liberty has made to the huddled masses has been reevaluated, deemed to be untenable, and at long last, with full justification, revoked.