The estimates of the cost of carrying out President Trump's plan to build a wall on the nation's southwest border vary, but the fiscal and societal burdens heaped on U.S. citizens for governmental failure to take decisive action on illegal immigration is significantly costlier, border-control activists say.
One of the latest cost estimates of Trump's U.S-Mexican border-security plan – if Congress fails to approve supplemental appropriations – is the equivalent of adding $95 to $120 per U.S. household to the national debt, according to the nonpartisan nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
The organization calculated the per-household ratio based on the $12 billion to $15 billion estimated cost of a border wall that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan jointly offered last week.
"This is about keeping Americans safe," Ryan said. "We are committed to working with the administration to stop the influx of illegal immigration along the southern border, protect our homeland, and uphold the rule of law.
"I applaud President Trump for keeping his promise to make this a national priority."
A debate then raged in the halls of Congress, with opponents such as Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., railing against the wall and the temporary refugee ban implemented via executive order.
"Building walls on our borders and fear in our hearts will not move America forward," Durbin said on the Senate floor. "Let's not continue the cruelty or deception of blaming immigrants and refugees for our security and economic challenges.
"Let's work together to build a better America for all Americans, including new Americans, no matter the color of their skin, where their parents were born, or how they pray."
While the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget took a neutral stand on the merits of building a border wall, its president, Maya MacGuineas, exhorted federal lawmakers to ensure the endeavor is "fully paid for in the same legislation that spends the funds, either through other spending cuts or revenue increases."
On the higher end of estimate costs comes a Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, published analysis dismissing the Trump administration's claim it can build such a wall for $8 billion to $12 billion as initially indicated.
Writing in the MIT Technology Journal, Konstantin Kakaes says that depending on how high above and deep below ground the wall would reach, a wall, for instance, 50 feet tall and 15 feet below ground across 1,000-miles could cost upwards of $40 billion, an estimate he bases on several factors.
As a project of this magnitude could require about 9.7 million cubic meters of concrete – priced, say, at $900 per cubic meter – "we're talking almost $9 billion" for concrete alone and another $4.6 billion for steel rebar, Kakaes claims.
He also urged readers to consider what Israel has experienced in its construction of "320 miles of a planned 480-mile barrier in and around the West Bank. Only three to 10 percent of the completed portion is concrete. The cost so far: $2.6 billion.
"That fits with what structural engineers have told me: the total cost of highways and other megascale projects in the U.S. is generally two to three times the material costs."
Therefore, he said, it will cost the U.S. $27 billion to $40 billion to carry out the Trump endeavor.
The Federation for Immigration Reform, or FAIR – a nonprofit advocate of limited immigration – says, however, that no matter who pays for the wall, the project ultimately can be viewed as cost effective.
Citing an estimated $100 billion recurring annual burden placed on taxpayers due to the provision of services to illegal aliens and their families, FAIR President Dan Stein said in a recent USA Today op-ed, "Even at the high end of the one-time cost estimate for constructing a wall, in the $15 billion and $25 billion range, the structures are cheap at twice the price."
A widely cited FAIR report published in 2013 claims illegal immigrants could cost taxpayers $113 billion annually, an amount adjusted to $99 billion after factoring estimated taxes paid by illegals.
President Trump during his election campaign cited the $113 billion FAIR figure, leading to a PolitiFact analysis and several additional analyses and estimates that were less than the FAIR total.
Although PolitiFact acknowledged it's "difficult to determine exact costs of a population for which only estimates are available" – without attempting to explicitly refute the numbers – it judged Trump's FAIR-based claim to be "largely false."
The primary fiscal burden of illegal aliens – $84 billion, in FAIR’s estimate – falls on state and local governments, with the remaining $29 billion outlay coming from the federal government.
The biggest state- and local-level taxpayer burden lies in the provision of public schooling for the children of illegal aliens, since the expense of public education traditionally has fallen on local governments.
With the majority of these students meeting the economic criteria of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, or Title I, program, with those children constituting about 9.7 percent of K-12 enrollees nationwide, "we estimate that about $1.33 billion of this funding is spent on children of illegal aliens," the report said.
When additionally factoring in the Migrant Education Program ($237 million) and the Title III program ($538 million), the estimated annual cost of education for these children is nearly $2.11 billion.
Medical expenses for illegal aliens comprise about $5.95 billion, factoring emergency medical care ($250 million), fraudulent use of Medicaid ($1.24 billion), Medicaid cost of childbirth ($1.24 billion), Medicaid for children ($1.6 billion) and other Medicaid outlays ($1.6 billion).
Among other fiscal burdens cited in the report are $7.84 billion in Administration of Justice Outlays, whose largest expenditures fall into the categories of Residual Immigration & Customs Enforcement Functions ($2.82 billion) and Detention and Removal ($2.55 billion).
"Criminal and deportable aliens in the hands of [Detention and Removal Office] authorities are either transported to the border – if Mexican – or flown to their homeland," the report emphasized
"Some Mexicans also are flown to the interior of their country rather than being put across the border where many would be likely to attempt to reenter the United States illegally."
According to FAIR, Public Assistance Benefits to illegal aliens at the time of its analysis exceeded $4.71 billion when weighing the cost of the Free and Reduced Meal Program ($2.27 billion), Temporary Assistance of Needy Families ($1.03 billion), Child Care and Development Fund ($633 million), and Housing Assistance Programs ($787 million).
WND called the White House to obtain additional information on President Trump's border-security plan. A Press Office staffer said to submit questions via e-mail. No response was given, however, prior to publication deadline.
The inquiry asked whether current White House cost estimates matched or were comparable to the $12 billion-$15 billion figure offered by House Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell, who publicly expressed support for the border-wall proposal.
"Whatever the Trump administration estimates may be for the border-wall endeavor, what is that cost-estimate based upon? In other words, how exactly was it calculated? Does that calculation include factors such as land-acquisition costs and labor?
WND also asked for a revised estimate if indeed those factors were not included in White House projections. An estimated date of release to Congress of a detailed plan to build the wall was also requested.
Drugs and crime
The Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, views the burden of easy access across burden in terms of murderous Mexican transnational criminal organizations, or TCOs.
The DEA reiterated in its most recent National Drug Threat Assessment, or NDTA, that "Mexican TCOs remain the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States; no other group is currently positioned to challenge them."
These TCOs hold broad, territorial influence across large swaths of Mexico to produce and then transport multi-ton quantities of illicit drugs over the border.
Mexican TCO members – many with family ties to "leading cartel figures in Mexico" – enter the U.S. illegally as well as legally, often concealing their operations within densely-populated Mexican-American communities, according to the DEA.
The Mexican TCOs' control of "lucrative smuggling corridors across the U.S. Southwest Border" enable them to deliver their "poly-drug portfolio" of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana" and other substances to U.S. consumer markets.
The report points out that the violence that has plagued Mexico as a result of the drug cartels has not, with some exceptions, extended across the border into the U.S.
"U.S.-based Mexican TCOs strive to maintain low visibility and generally refrain from inter-cartel violence to avoid law enforcement detection and scrutiny," it said.
"While there are isolated examples of TCO-connected murders in the United States in past years, particularly along the SWB, they do not represent a significant trend of concern."
A recent Congressional Research Service, or CRS, report points to slow but steady progress in joint U.S.-Mexican efforts to reform Mexico's criminal justice, known as the Mérida Initiative, while combating transnational criminal organizations and cross-border drug and human trafficking.
Mexico, however, continues to be "the main foreign supplier to the U.S. market of heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana," CRS said in its January 2017 report, "U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond."
"It remains a major transit country for cocaine sold in the United States."
Additionally, from 2010 to 2015, U.S. seizures of methamphetamine increased 305 percent at the southwest border, while the amount of heroin seized more than doubled, according to the report, which was obtained by the Federation of American Scientists.
"Surging U.S. demand has fueled increasing opium cultivation and heroin production in Mexico, as well as drug trafficking-related violence in areas where groups are vying to control production," the report said.
The George W. Bush Administration in 2007 launched the Mérida Initiative, for which Congress then appropriated more than $2.6 billion from FY2008 to FY2016. The FY2017 budget request under Barack Obama included $129 million for the initiative, while a House measure – for which the 114th Congress did not complete action – sought an additional $20 million.
Among the endeavor's "Four Pillars" is "Creating a 21st Century Border," which extends some of the initiative's focus from illegal migration and cross-border crime to the potential risk that cross-border commercial trade poses to the U.S.
"Another issue policymakers may confront regarding the strengthening of the Southwest border is how to prevent the corruption of U.S. and Mexican border officials," the report suggested.
It noted that 144 employees of Customs & Border Protection, or CBP, from FY2005 to FY2012, "were arrested or indicted for corruption-related activities and 65 percent of them were stationed along the Southwest border."
CRS acknowledged that the agency has stepped up efforts to increase transparency on the matter, including a 2016 CBP Integrity Advisory Council report that recommended the creation of Border Corruption Task Forces.
"To date, the 21st century border pillar has not directly addressed the issue of corruption," CRS said in the report.
"Congress may consider whether preventing, detecting, and prosecuting the corruption of border enforcement personnel should be a component of the border programs funded by the Mérida Initiative."
Despite the efforts of U.S. and Mexican officials via the initiative – and a decade after the Mexican government initiated a military-led crackdown against drug traffickers and organized criminal organizations – "violent crime continues to threaten citizen security and governance in parts of Mexico, including in cities along the U.S. Southwest border."
The violence, according to the report, "may have claimed more than 100,000 lives since December 2006."
From the Mexican side of border, there have been threats against Trump's plan.
A former Mexican government official says that in response, his nation might stop cooperating with the United States in the war against the drug cartels, which would unleash what an analysis has described as "chaos and violence."
The warning came from Jorge Castaneda Gutman, a former secretary of foreign affairs for Mexico, whose leadership has been in an uproar over Trump's plan to stop illegal immigration.
In a recent interview, Gutman claimed that the drugs and associated violence are not Mexico's problem, even though the drug cartels have murdered tens of thousands of Mexicans, beheading many of their victims.
He told CNN that Mexico "has a lot of negotiating chips in this matter … but it also has measures we could take in other areas."
"For example, the drugs that come through Mexico from South America, or the drugs that are produced here in Mexico all go to the United States," he said. "This is not our problem."
Gutman then boasted of his nation's work with the U.S. but warned it might not last.
"We have been cooperating with the United States for many years on these issues because they've asked us to and because we have a friendly, trustful relationship. If that relationship disappears, the reasons for cooperation also disappear," he said.
At Intellihub, an independent news outlet whose coverage of the secret 2012 Bilderberg meetings became the source of a movie, writer Mac Slavo spelled out the consequences of ending the cooperation.
"[Gutman] suggested that Mexico's previous cooperation with the U.S. in curbing the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants could end," he wrote. "Instead, the cartels could be essentially unleashed upon the U.S. – retribution for tough policies on Mexico and other immigrant-producing countries in the Latin American world."
He said Gutman's comments confirm the link between the cartels and the Mexican government.
President Trump’s proposal to impose a 20 percent tariff on Mexican goods to help pay for his border-wall plan appears to be entirely lawful, according to the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C., libertarian think-tank.
Dan Ikenson, director of Cato's Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies, acknowledged last month in an analysis of Trump’s proposal might comply with the letter of the law under several statutes.
"The most probable statute is Section 232(b) of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which permits the president to impose duties in the event of a 'national emergency,'" Ikenson said. He pointed out that President Nixon once invoked this statute in 1971, subsequently imposing upon Japanese imports a 10 percent surcharge in response to a "balance of payments crisis" with Japan.
"Trump might claim that the loss of manufacturing jobs or the influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico is a national security crisis that justifies his invocation of this law, and imposition of the tariff," according to Ikenson, who offered his analysis via the Cato at Liberty blog.
Though Trump likely could implement such an action, it remains unclear if the punitive tariff would remain in effect in the long term.
"Whether the action would pass muster in a NAFTA panel or at the WTO is another matter," Ikenson said. "There has never been such a case – duties imposed to redress a national security crisis – brought to dispute settlement."
Ikenson, it should be noted, simply assessed the legalities of the tariff in relation to the border-wall plan, and is not supportive of the proposal. Indeed, he said it was unfortunate Trump had the power to impose the discriminatory tariff – and equally unfortunate the president has the will to carry out this border-security action.
"The very idea of building the wall in the first place is a disgrace, but demonizing our neighbors and hatching plans that could subvert the Mexican economy and put another Venezuela on our southern border, is belligerent and potentially disastrous," he said.
One analyst from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C. think-tank, praised the border-wall plan and accompanying proposed Trump measures to heighten border security as bold and effective.
"There is no question that all of these actions, taken together, will be a major step in getting our illegal alien population under control, securing our border, and deterring and reducing the huge influx of illegal aliens into the U.S. that was spurred by the Obama administration's lax policies," according to Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow in Heritage's Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.
"It would seem that the political will to enforce our immigration laws and take a tough line on the illegal aliens that have been flooding into the country for many years has finally appeared in Washington in the form of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States.
"It is about time," von Spakovsky emphasized in the organization's Daily Signal report.