Trump’s border wall: the lies, half-truths and myths, explained

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A Mexican soldier patrols the U.S.-Mexico border Image: Quartz

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump made a plethora of promises, some of which, whilst seemingly unachievable, led him right into the heart of the American voter.

On some of these promises, progress has been swift. The coal industry is currently seeing the improvement it was expecting from a Trump presidency, with the president’s “put our miners back to work” promise at least partially fulfilled during his first term.

Others have a way to go, such as the ‘wall’. Widely criticised by voters on both sides, perhaps Trump’s most outlandish promise to his conservative base of voters was to build a “big, beautiful wall” across the southern border of the United States.

See the following from Trump’s 2015 speech, where he announced his presidential candidacy.

“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.”

As of this week, the wall has hit its first significant milestone. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency announced on Thursday that it had selected four companies to build concrete prototypes of the wall. These vary in scope and design, but even in its early stages, it is estimated to be one of the costliest construction projects in recent history. 650 miles of fencing has already been put up along the Mexican border, at a cost of $7bn to the US government.

What will the border wall look like?

Each prototype is expected to be 30 feet tall, and 30 feet wide. These prototypes alone are said to cost between $400,000 and $500,000 each.

Numerous designs have been put forward in the past by companies outside of these four selected; see one option considered by Texas company Penna Group below.

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Image credit: Star-Telegram

Will ‘Mexico pay for it’?

This is highly unlikely. Since Trump first took office, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has publicly refused the possibility of Mexico paying for the wall, after several public meetings with Trump in which both parties appeared visibly uncomfortable – Nieto was under pressure to reach an amicable way to move forward with a president who had publicly denounced Mexican citizens as “rapists” in the run up the election.

In fact, transcripts of conversations between Donald Trump and the Mexican president show that Trump now seems to be distancing himself from the ‘Mexico will pay for it’ part of the promise. According to reports, he has been telling President Nieto to stop publicly denouncing the wall.

Trump has claimed in the past that building the wall would cost $10 billion, though many experts have predicted higher. So far, the president has managed to secure $1.6 billion from the house of representatives. Now, astonishing reports are mounting that the GOP is eyeing a nearly $1 billion cut to Hurricane Harvey disaster relief funds to help foot the bill.

See our breakdown of this article in the video below:

Will it be solar powered?

In the early days of Trump’s presidency, there were talks from several companies (some of which are no longer in the running) of various features the wall could have in order to make it more environmentally friendly, or at least sustainable.

Gleason Partners of Nevada put forward proposals which would see a border wall covered in solar panels. A Pennsylvania based firm, Clayton industries, drafted one design which included chambers for the purpose of storing nuclear waste.

With regards to solar panels, the cost of these seems to outweigh any potential savings in the future. According to one data scientist/chemical engineer sourced from Quora, the “solar installation would, at a minimum, cost about four times as much as the wall itself.” Given Trump’s history of climate change denial, this is unlikely to be his top priority.

What can stop it from happening?

Of course, there are many reasons that the border wall could fail, from the level of funding needed to the sheer amount of fierce criticism from both political sides; but perhaps none more real than mother nature.

The terrain which parts of this border wall will have to cover is unfriendly to most kinds of structural buildings, and contractors will no doubt have to be creative in their solutions to get around the mountainous areas seen along the southern border. The likelihood is that the nature of the terrain will threaten the structural integrity of the entire wall-span even after construction is complete.

Moreover, conservationists have warned that Trump’s wall is likely to have a serious negative impact on the ecosystem in many areas of the border. Splitting some of these species along the US-Mexico border with a concrete wall is likely to decrease genetic diversity, and make the animals more susceptible to diseases, by cutting off their natural hunting lands and sources of water. If Trump ignores these warnings, there will likely be a strong backlash from the conservationist community.


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