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Great Wall of America

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Existing barrier near Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. Depressing, ¿verdad?
Making the melting pot
Immigrants welcome, racists not
This article concerns the great Muslim-Latino Repellant Barrier. For our article on the rallying cry of the people that spawned this grand and dastardly scheme, see "secure the border".
Certainly we want to build a wall, a protective wall.
Joseph Goebbels[1]
I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I'll build them very inexpensively—I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.
—Donald Trump[2] (and it's gonna be YUUUGE)
—Vicente Fox Quesada, former President of Mexico[3]
— The honourable Judge Worm to Pink Floyd[4]

The Great Wall of America or Great Wall of Mexico is a physical barrier[note 1] from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, proposed to separate the USA from Mexico and thus prevent immigration from Latin America into the USA. The idea is most closely associated with President Donald Trump, but a high physical barrier along the entire land border is not a new idea.

There is no physical reason why a wall is impossible, and large sections of the border are already secured by high fences, but construction of the remainder would be expensive, and the US government would need to acquire significant amounts of land from private owners and be able to carry out major construction projects in very remote areas. Trump, who estimated a cost of $6bn, proposed to fund it either by taxing Mexican illegal immigrants or by directly getting Mexico to pay via threats and sanctions. But then decided that he could get Americans to fund it instead. Of course, by 2019, he had changed tack and was planning to have US taxpayers pay for the wall instead, and his base has fallen right in step. Thinking back to rallies he held during his election, one is tempted to re-caption them:

TRUMP: Who's gonna pay for the wall?

The wall and its associated security measures would have a significant economic and social impact, by making life harder for the many people who cross the border every day for work, study, leisure, or to visit relatives and friends. And the wall will have serious environmental effects, dividing and damaging animal and plant habitats. On the other hand, if you sell concrete in southern Texas or ladders in northern Mexico, you're good. It will also allow drug dealers to charge an even more ridiculous markup over production prices, and as we all know, El Chapo is good at building tunnels, so the big cartels will have no problem getting drugs into the US, while the small mom and pop cartels from across the street are crushed by the big box competition.

The wall can be sawed through with tools available at Home Depot, by the way — something smugglers have already taken advantage of.[5]

Existing border defense[edit]

The current US-Mexico border is 1,989 miles (3,201 kilometers). Much of the border is already formed by natural barriers, principally the Rio Grande and Colorado River. There is also an existing barrier which comprises a number of separate walls and fences totalling 580 miles (930 km).

This was created as a result of various legislation, including Rep Duncan Hunter's amendment in the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437) and the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (H.R. 6061).[6] The remainder of the border is guarded by patrols and surveillance and the bravery of modern-day Minute Men.

Trump's proposal[edit]

So, the president of Mexico, yesterday... Or the ex-president, or whatever — whoever — who cares. He said: "We will not even consider paying for the wall"!

You have to understand, because — OK, you ready? — who's gonna pay for the wall? [Crowd chants "Mexico!"] Who? [Crowd chants "Mexico!"] A hundred percent. A hundred percent.

So I get a call from one of the reporters yesterday, and they said: "The president of Mexico said they will not under any circumstances pay for the wall". They said to me, "What is your comment?".

I said "The wall just got ten feet higher"! S'true. S'true.
—Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump[7]

Trump's proposal, according to Politifact, is for a precast concrete wall costing $8-12bn, at least 35 feet (11 m) high, running around 1000 miles, leaving the Rio Grande and Colorado river as natural barriers. The US Government Accountability Office rates fencing costs at anything from $400,000 to $15.1m per mile, depending on topography and fence type.[8] Estimates for fencing the remaining border run from $5.1bn to $25bn. In a detailed analysis, bearing in mind costs of labor, land, and materials, asset management firm AllianceBernstein cost it at $15-25bn.[9] Although large sections of barrier already exist, these typically range from low vehicle fencing up to 18 ft high barriers, failing to meet Trump's stated requirements.[9]

Bernstein estimates a 40ft high wall would need 17 million tonnes of concrete and 2.4 million tonnes of cement, which would mostly have to be sourced from near the wall; this could represent 1% of the total global demand for cement, pushing prices up. They found that this offered a major opportunity for construction companies in the southern US.[9]

To fund it, Trump has suggested taking a slice from the $24bn of remittances sent by immigrants from the US to Mexico.[8] One specific Trump proposal is to ban wire transfers from illegal immigrants (or anyone without identity documents showing lawful residency) until Mexico agrees to pay for the wall.[10] Trump has also suggested a number of other tactics: impose trade sanctions; take action against Mexican state subsidies of Mexican industry; cancel visas; or raise visa fees to pay for the wall.[10] Some of Trump's proposals would doubtless fall afoul of international agreements or law, but if Trump fulfilled threats to withdraw from NAFTA and other bodies,[11] that might not be an issue.

Other advocates[edit]

China built a wall, and they have almost no Mexicans.
Seems legit

Ted Cruz has supported a barrier for several years, calling for a fence in 2012, and in 2015 his policy program included to "build a wall that works".[12]

The Third Mind Foundation, a New York-based engineering think tank, has called for a global competition to build a new and more attractive border wall.[13]

Major problems with a wall[edit]

The strength of a wall is neither greater nor less than the courage of the men who defend it.
—Genghis Khan[14]


Mexico has (quite understandably) not been keen on suggestions that it pay for the wall (especially since the whole point of the wall is to hurt Mexicans who are literally struggling to survive). Former Mexican presidents Felipe Calderon and Vicente Fox have both said Mexico wouldn't pay a single cent, while President Peña Nieto doesn't seem enthusiastic and has also condemned many of Trump's other remarks about Mexico.[15]

Economic and social impact[edit]

The plan would inconvenience tourists, workers, students, and others who cross the border daily. The existing border divides a number of American Indian nations as well as splitting the campus of the University of Texas at Brownsville into two halves.[6] The mayor of McAllen, Texas, has said that Mexicans spend $1.3bn annually in his town, crossing the border for better prices and an increased range of goods, so making it harder to cross the border would have a significant economic impact.[16]

The existing border wall has also been attacked on aesthetic grounds as "a confusion of fencing, corrugated metal sheets, concrete slabs, surveillance cameras, drones, and other structures and devices" that "is dismal, inefficient, and inelegant", and the new wall is likely to be similarly ugly.[13]


Another problem is that land would be required for the wall, and much of that on the US side belongs to private citizens, who may object to its seizure, causing additional delays and expense.[8] The actual location of the border is complicated by frequent floods which change the location of rivers along the border.[16] While existing sections of wall tend to be by their nature near populated areas, completing the wall would require building in isolated areas, including the deserts of Arizona and the mountains of New Mexico, which would pose significant difficulties in transportation (of both people and huge volumes of concrete), construction, and maintaining a labour force.[9]

Santa Elena Canyon, part of the remote Big Bend National ParkWikipedia in Texas. The Rio Grande,Wikipedia the river running in the middle of this canyon, is not only a boundary for the park, it is also the US-Mexico border.


Granted, the people who support the barrier don't tend to be the kind of people who are particularly concerned about endangered species (unless of course it's about creatures that aren't endangered nor a species), but it would also have significant environmental impact, affecting the ranges of endangered species including Arroyo toads, California red-legged frogs, black-spotted newts, Pacific pond turtles, and the jaguarundi. Other species such as ocelots which are rare in the US but more common in Mexico would suffer north of the border.[16] This would also affect the $463m per year that wildlife tourism brings to the Rio Grande valley.[16] The route passes through protected wildlife reserves.[9] Construction will also affect desert plants such as saguaros.[17] However, the existing border security apparatus and illegal tracks made by people smugglers each already have a significant effect on the ecosystem.[17]

Local opposition[edit]

A survey in July 2016 found widespread opposition from people living near the border, with 86% on the Mexican side and 72% on the American side opposing the wall.[18] If there was significant opposition from residents, that could impede construction or even lead to civil disobedience or sabotage.

Even if a barrier was built, it would not be foolproof. Tunnels can obviously be used to go underneath, and are already used by Mexican drug smugglers to access the USA.[19] There are also private airplanes used by smugglers,[20] though they are easier to detect than tunnels. Not to mention that the cartels have figured out this new "ladder" techno-doodad.[21]

Famous walls in history[edit]

The Great Wall of China, here pictured in 1907. It stopped the occasional cattle-thief and did see some success at slowing the advance of the Japanese, but failed to stop the Mongol Horde. Or the Manchus.
The Berlin Wall, here pictured in 1975. It failed to stop David Hasselhoff.
I'm building a wall /

A fine wall / Not so much to keep you out /

More to keep me in
Pet Shop BoysWikipedia - Building A Wall
I dig my hole, you build a wall / One day that wall is gonna fall
—Darren Korb - Zia's theme from Bastion
—Ronald Reagan, from a time when Republicans were into removing walls

While the basic idea of simply fencing off people you can't stand has been infused with new life recently, the practice itself is ancient. Thanks to the stubborn wall-erecting psyche of humanity, history has been left replete with examples of all the times walling people out never worked. As Gildor says in "The Lord of the Rings": 'The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.'

The precedent is the Great Wall of China, an 8,850 km (5,500 mile) barrier which includes 6,259 km (3,889 miles) of wall plus various other earthworks and natural barriers; this was built and rebuilt in several stages from the 7th century BCE to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).[22] It is uncertain if a US-Mexico border wall would take less time to construct. The Great Wall of China was also spectacularly unsuccessful, having failed to stop Mongol and Manchurian invaders from conquering all of China and establishing the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) and Qing dynasty (1636–1912), respectively. And previously having failed to stop various other Turkic invaders from conquering large swaths of northern China.

The Roman Empire constructed a number of famous barriers — including Hadrian's WallWikipedia and the Antonine WallWikipedia — two lines of fortification between England and Scotland. Many of these proved short-lived, though they were successful in their primary goals, stopping livestock theft.

The Berlin Wall was another popular construction, in the days when Republican presidents called for walls to be torn down. It spanned 96 miles and cost $25m ($200m at 2015 prices)[2] but construction was aided by cheap conscript labor and proximity to East German industry. Notably, this wall was meant to keep people in, not out, and at that it was almost entirely successful. The wall was famous for its escape attempts, including two different escapes using a sports car (the same sports car), a hot air balloon, a stolen tank, and just good old smooth talking. It failed when a local drunk communist party official accidentally announced that refugees from East Germany would be allowed to leave through all border checkpoints, and mistakenly said the border crossings at the wall were included and it would happen that day; half of Berlin showed up, and no officer was willing to be on record as ordering the use of lethal force, so the restrictions effectively ended.

Israel has spent several years building a border fence around Palestinian territories — ironically, images of this have been deceitfully claimed to depict a nonexistent Mexico-Guatemala wall (that border is largely open, aside from natural hazards).[23] The Israel border fence has been credited with reducing suicide bombings, suggesting it has stopped terrorists getting into Israel, although this has been contested as factors like the Hamas ceasefire probably played a role.[24]

The Wall,Wikipedia designed by renowned stonemason Sir Pink of Floyd, was built by abusive and/or incompetent authority figures in order to protect one man's fragile ego.[25] So-called peace walls or peace linesWikipedia divide primarily Catholic/Nationalist neighbourhoods from mainly Protestant/Unionist ones in Northern Ireland.

Similar barriers on a slightly smaller scale have also featured prominently in episodes of The Simpsons[26] and South Park.[27]

Plan B[edit]

There are many other more realistic ways to increase border security, such as increasing border patrols, and (inevitably) drones.[28]

More "imaginative" solutions include offering bounties for anyone who shoots an illegal immigrant[29] although it's not clear they need the encouragement, as white supremacists already form armed vigilante groups to patrol the border.[30]

According to the New York Times, Trump also discussed replacing the existing border infrastructure with "a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators"; his advisers reportedly costed this proposal, although the figure they arrived at isn't in the public realm, or how many alligators would be required. Trump reportedly "wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh", and suggested shooting migrants in the legs to slow them down, although advisers informed him that some of this might be illegal.[31] Gee, it's like he's a psychopath or something.

More of a Shelbyville idea[edit]

In the span of a few months, we've gone from chanting "MEXICO WILL PAY!", to the wall becoming a fence, and then motion sensors, and now there's the small problem of giving all of the Rio Grande to Mexico among other logistical problems. Obviously Mexico has stated on repeated occasions they're not going to pay for the stupid wall, and now even Republicans won't pay for it[32] (it's such an obvious boondoggle that nobody wants their name on it).

The GOP realizes they've got to find a way for Democrats to be responsible for stopping it.[33][34] The Republicans essentially need to find a way to stop it from being built, even though they love all the corporate welfare and corruption which will come with multi-billion dollar contracts,[35][36] it's simply not possible.[37] That's being optimistic, however, because if they actually start building the thing, then we're in trouble as a country.

See also[edit]


  1. Not anymore it's not! Cheers, Joe.


  1. The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic by Benjamin Carter Hett (2018) Henry Holt and Co. p. 109. ISBN 1250162505.
  2. 2.0 2.1 This is what Trump's border wall could cost US, CNBC, 9 Oct 2015
  3. Another Message for Donald Trump from Former Mexican President Vicente Fox by Vicente Fox Quesada (Jun 7, 2017) YouTube.
  5. "Smugglers are already sawing through sections of Donald Trump's Border Wall" - Vox Magazine
  6. 6.0 6.1 See the Wikipedia article on Mexico–United States barrier.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 How Trump plans to build, and pay for, a wall along U.S.-Mexico border, Miriam Valverde, Politifact, July 26, 2016
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Bernstein Materials Blast: Who Would Profit from The Trump Wall?, AllianceBernstein, 15 July 2016
  10. 10.0 10.1 Pay for the Wall,
  11. Donald Trump threatens to pull US out of WTO, FT, 24 July 2016
  12. Trump fumes as Cruz steals wall mojo, Politico, 2016
  13. 13.0 13.1 Building the Border Wall,
  15. US-Mexico Border Fence / Great Wall of Mexico Secure Fence, Global Security
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 The Environmental Impact of the US-Mexico Border Wall, Newsweek, 2016
  17. 17.0 17.1 The Environmental Impacts of a Border Fence, Jeffrey P. Cohn, BioScience, Volume 57 Issue 1, Pp. 96.
  18. Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border, Voice of America
  19. Inside Mexico's Drug Tunnels, Time
  20. Mexican Drug Smugglers Try Flying the Unfriendly Skies, Wired, Mar 2009
  21. Camo ladders at border wall
  22. See the Wikipedia article on Great Wall of China.
  23. Border Disorder, Dan Evon, Snopes, 2016
  24. Fact Sheets: Israel's Security Fence, Jewish Virtual Library, 2016
  26. See the Wikipedia article on A Tale of Two Springfields.
  27. See the Wikipedia article on Child Abduction Is Not Funny.
  28. Half of US-Mexico border now patrolled only by drone, The Guardian, 13 Nov 2014
  29. ALIPAC President Thinks Idea of Shooting Illegal Immigrants for Bounty is "Humorous",, 19 Feb 2007
  30. Armed Vigilante Activities in Arizona, Anti-Defamation League, 2005
  31. Shoot Migrants’ Legs, Build Alligator Moat: Behind Trump’s Ideas for Border, New York Times, 1 Oct 2019
  32. Jennifer Steinhauer, Matt Flegenheimer, and Peter Bakerapril, "Threat of Government Shutdown Fades as Trump Retreats on Wall", NYT 25 April 2017.
  33. Levin, Bess, "Congress Doesn’t Want to Pay for Trump’s Border Wall Either", Vanity Fair (28 March 2017, 11:40 am).
  34. Feldscher, Kyle, "Jeff Sessions: Blame government shutdown on Democrats", Washington Examiner (24 April 2017, 10:38 AM).
  35. Danielle Ivory and Julie Creswell, "One Certainty of Trump’s Wall: Big Money", NYT 28 January 2017.
  36. David A. Graham, "A Single Scandal Sums Up All of Trump's Failures", The Atlantic 24 May 2019.
  37. Belsie, Laurent, "For builders, Trump's wall beckons but is fraught with political risk", CSMonitor 17 May 2017.