In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned for and won the presidency of the United States in part by repeatedly promising to build a wall along the southern border between the United States and Mexico in order to prevent illegal immigration. Candidate Trump argued that illegal immigration is hurting Americans in many ways. In large numbers, illegal workers lower the wages of legal workers. Economist George Borjas estimates that illegal immigration costs the American worker $99 to $118 billion per year in lost wages.
Also, illegal immigrants represent a substantial burden on the tax-paying citizens when they use hospital and school resources without paying for them, and claim government benefits such as food stamps and housing support. For example, Elizabeth English wrote for the American Enterprise Institute in February, 2015 that almost 12% of the students in New York public schools are undocumented, and New York spent $35,520 per pupil in the 2014-2015 school year.
Finally, Trump cited the amount of crime committed by illegal immigrants, including murder and drug trafficking.
What surprises me most about this political issue is that any American citizen would be against the prevention of illegal immigration. Yet, during the 2016 campaign Democrats took a position against building a wall, even though Politifact.com verified that Hilary Clinton voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006 along with 25 other Democratic Senators. The bill passed and George Bush signed it. Then Congress approved $1.2 billion for the Department of Homeland Security to fund the construction. By 2009, Homeland Security had erected about 613 miles of fencing and vehicle barriers. This picture shows part of the double chain link and barbed wire fencing near El Paso, TX. The construction cost per mile was $1.96 million, or $371 per foot. To-date the southern border is not completely protected by a physical barrier and Congress never funded any more construction after the $1.2 billion.
During the course of the 2016 campaign, I was reminded about the most famous wall builder in the Bible, Nehemiah. Is Donald Trump a modern Nehemiah? Is building a wall between the US and Mexico economically feasible and justified? Who will pay for the wall?
In 607 B.C, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II forced King Jehoiakim of the southern kingdom of Judah into submission. Judah had previously split from the northern kingdom of Israel. Judah had a series of corrupt kings and the people of Judah worshiped idols instead of the God of Abraham and Moses. Divided and weak, Judah was easily overcome by the stronger Babylonian army, which forced the best and brightest of Judah into exile in Babylon. After putting down a rebellion in 597 B.C., sacking Jerusalem, and destroying the temple, Nebuchadnezzar again took the majority of the Jewish people into exile in Babylon and left the weakest and poorest of Judah behind to serve as farmers. (2 Kings 24 and 25).
Approximately 70 years later, the exile ends and Ezra returns to Jerusalem with 40,000 Jews to help rebuild the temple. After some political manipulation which halted construction temporarily, the new temple is completed and the Jews celebrate Passover again. The city, however, is vulnerable to weather, wild animals and enemy attack because the surrounding walls were destroyed and never rebuilt. Afraid for Jerusalem and the Jews, Nehemiah convinces King Artaxerxes to appoint him governor of Jerusalem and finance the reconstruction of the wall. Nehemiah has enemies, however, who do not want him to succeed and threaten attacks. Thus, as the Jews build the wall, they carry a sword in one hand. Despite the threats, the new wall is completed in just 52 days. Nehemiah understood that disobedience of the “stiff-necked” Jews against the laws of God contributed as much to the defeat at the hands of the Babylonians and the indignity of exile from Jerusalem as did the destruction of the walls. Therefore, he had Ezra read the laws of Moses to the people. Now the people understand that God is with His people, and the surrounding nations become afraid and lose their confidence. The wall reveals God’s blessing as the Jews begin to prosper again in peace.
Just as Nehemiah had his detractors and opponents, so does Donald Trump. Some may look at the parallels I draw between Nehemiah and Donald Trump as merely an amusing diversion. Others may see it as history repeating itself. In any case, I leave it to you, the Reader, to draw your own conclusion from the following table comparing these two historic figures.
|Wall Proposal||Around Jerusalem||Along US Mexico border|
|Credentials||Cup bearer to king Artaxerxes||Billionaire real estate businessman|
|Journey||Received permission and resources from King to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem in order to build a wall around Jerusalem in order to protect the temple. The king made him governor of Jerusalem.||Sought nomination of Republican party. Won against the odds and was elected 45th president of the United States of America.|
|Opponents||Sanballat, the Samaritan. Samaritans believed they were descendants of the original tribes of Israel. Sanballat resents Nehemiah’s goal to improve the welfare of the Jews. Tried to entrap Nehemiah in the Temple, but failed.||The liberal democrats and Media, which scorned Trump’s run for the nomination and slogan, “Make American Great Again”. Democrats tried to win the election with ad hominen attacks against Trump (racist, mysogynist, homophobe, etc.) but failed.|
|Opponents||Tobiah, the Ammonite. Ammonites worshiped the god Molech to whom they offered human sacrifices, including children.||Supporters of pro-choice and late-term abortions.|
|Opponents||Geshem, the Arab, who along with Sanballat and Tobiah, sought to harm Nehemiah, intimidate him with false reports, deceive him with false prophets, and influence the nobles against him.||Supporters of Muslims who claimed it was racist islamophobia to apply extreme vetting with immigrants from countries with extreme radical islamists in order to protect America from attacks.|
|The Law||The Jews had been neglecting God’s law. As a result, their harvests failed and their lives were miserable. Nehemiah directs Ezra to read the Law of Moses daily to the Jews. As the wall is completed, the people feel safe again. Prosperity returns to Jerusalem.||Trump campaigns as the “law and order” candidate, and professes great respect for the military and police. Trump argues that preventing illegal immigration will benefit Americans by increasing wages, relieving public services and decreasing crime.|
|Who Pays for the Wall?||Artaxerxes, king of Susa (Persia). Neither jewish nor from Israel.||Mexico, not the United States? Still to be determined.|
Ignoring the fact for the moment that there is already over 600 miles of fencing along the length of the U.S.-Mexican border, I want to examine the financial implications of building Trump’s wall. How could we build such a wall?
I have a friend who is considering building a wall around his property in a rural area in north Texas, approximately one square mile, out of shipping containers. A typical shipping container is 40 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8.5 feet high. Each container weighs 4 tons. What if we built a wall along the entire length of the southern border out of shipping containers stacked two high?
The length of the border is 1,989 miles, or 10,501,920 feet. Therefore, a wall of shipping containers 17 feet tall would require 525,096 containers. Assuming that each container costs $1000 and another $250 per container to ship to the destination, the total cost of this part is approximately $656 million dollars. There is more to the construction costs required to finish the wall. I have computed these additional costs, including bedliner to protect the metal surface, concrete footings, grading, 40 cranes to lift the containers into place, labor and overhead and razor wire along the entire length times two. Light poles and cameras would add additional costs, but are not included here.
|Southern Border Construction Using Shpping Containers|
|Total container cost||
|Total delivery charge||
|Total Bedliner cost||
|18″ Razor wire cost, 2 levels||
|Total Concrete Footings Cost||
|Total Grading Cost||
|Total Crane Cost||
|COST Per Foot||
Based on the above assumptions, this construction method is significantly less that the $371 per linear foot Congress has already spent. Even if I underestimated the cost of a shipping container wall, this design concept may have merit along certain portions of the border.
Next, can we justify spending $1.6 billion to erect such a wall between the United States and Mexico? We can answer this question by looking at incarceration statistics in the United States. In 2014, the average cost per prisoner in the US was $30,620. Therefore, such a wall built out of shipping containers represents the same as incarcerating 51,663 prisoners for one year. This number is only 70% of the 73,665 prisoners who were not US citizens in both state and federal prisons in 2014. If we could build such a wall and deport all of the illegal aliens in prison, the federal and state governments would realize a net savings of $674 million if the United States paid for the wall.
Of course, Donald Trump promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, if not directly, then indirectly and overtime. I honestly am unable to evaluate at this time whether or how Mexico will pay for the wall. However, I can conclude the following:
- The United States already started the construction in 2006 with the support of Democratic senators, including Hillary Clinton.
- The construction is approximately one third complete.
- The potential cost savings from the reduction of illegal alien prisoners can justify the cost of constructing the wall.
- Just as in the time of Nehemiah, the United States stands to benefit from greater peace and prosperity by enforcing legal immigration and promoting general law and order.
Based on the results of the 2016 election, the American people want the federal government to finish the job. In 2017, we will see how President Trump keeps his promise to build a “great big beautiful wall” on the U.S.-Mexican border.