To declare his candidacy for the 2016 US presidential election, Donald Trump delivered a speech in which he described Mexican immigrants as criminals, rapists, and drug smugglers. From that day forward, Trump has made an immigration crackdown the bedrock of his campaign and his presidency. In his rhetoric at rallies, the promised crackdown has always centered on his most famous campaign promise – that he would build a “big, beautiful, powerful wall” along the US-Mexico border.
Constructing such a barrier is not a new idea. About 700 miles of the nearly 2,000-mile-long US southern border already had fences, walls or other barricades in place when Trump took office. However, no other president has placed so much emphasis on constructing border barriers.
Chants of “Build that wall!” have been ubiquitous at Trump rallies since at least May 2016, when he egged on a Phoenix, Arizona crowd that had started the chant. Throughout his 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly stated that constructing the massive wall would cause no hardship for US taxpayers, because Mexico would pay for it:
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox famously responded in 2016 that there was no way Mexico would “pay for that f—ing wall”. Fox has repeated the assertion many times since then, but more importantly, Mexico has held true to his words, not contributing any funds toward the US border wall project.
More recently, Trump has claimed that Mexico will “pay for the wall indirectly” through gains made by the US in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a trade deal signed by the leaders of all three countries in 2018. As of now, however, the Trump Administration has not produced any specific revenue projections that show how this indirect payment would occur.
Even if USMCA would ultimately generate new revenue for the US government from Mexico, it definitely is not doing so now. The deal currently has no force of law because it has not yet been ratified by the US . White House officials have conceded that at least for the present, US taxpayers will bear the entire cost of building the new border wall. For that reason, Congress has been reluctant to allocate money for the project.
Failures to Obtain Congressional Funding
During 2017 and 2018, when Trump’s fellow Republicans controlled both the House of Representatives and the Senate, Congress did not appropriate anywhere near the $15 billion to $25 billion that Trump has claimed the new wall will cost. Reports from the Congressional Budget Office and outside analysts place the projected true cost of the project at nearly $60 billion.
When Democrats claimed a ruling majority of the House of Representatives in the November 2018 US national elections, Trump dug in his heels regarding wall funding. He insisted that he would not approve any congressional budget unless it included over $5 billion in border wall funding. The resulting standoff with Congress led to a government shutdown that lasted from December 22, 2018 through January 25, 2019.
As The Millennial Source previously reported, the shutdown ended with a deal that provided $1.375 billion in restricted border wall funding. Trump had previously rejected proposals that including significantly larger appropriations for the wall project.
Recent Wall Funding Developments and Status of the Project
In the wake of the government shutdown, Trump made what will likely be his last effort to secure border wall funding before the 2020 presidential election. On February 15, 2019, he declared a national emergency regarding the need for new border barriers. In theory, such a declaration grants the president the power to divert funds from other government agencies and projects to resolve the emergency.
Some US media outlets recently reported that the Trump Administration has diverted money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to pay for border wall construction. However, the roughly $270 million ($0.27 billion) in diverted FEMA funds are actually being used to pay for detentions and court hearings on asylum applications.
Yet while those specific allegations about redirected funds were inaccurate, it has since become clear that Trump is repurposing money allocated by Congress on a much larger scale. As much as $3.6 billion has been pulled away from US Department of Defense projects to pay for wall building.
The canceled military construction projects include training facilities, a cyber operations center and a new middle school in Kentucky for children of military personnel. The middle school is a pet project of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of Trump’s most important congressional allies.
Trump’s invocation of the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to obtain funds repeatedly denied to him by Congress is an unprecedented use of the law. As a result, like so many of Trump’s attempted immigration actions, the border wall emergency declaration is now in the hands of the courts, where it will likely remain for a long time as the litigation process slowly unfolds.
Nor is opposition to the declaration of emergency the only legal challenge Trump faces as he pushes forward with the wall project. Much of the land on which the administration plans to build new wall is privately owned. In order to obtain the right to build on such land, the government will need to invoke eminent domain, a legal process that forces private property holders to sell their land to the US government for public use.
Property owners have the right to challenge eminent domain proceedings in court, and the review process can take years. In the 1990s, private businessman Donald Trump famously lost a lengthy court battle in which he attempted to use eminent domain laws to displace a widow from her home so that he could expand limousine parking for his Atlantic City, New Jersey Trump Plaza casino and hotel.
A recent Washington Post report stated that Trump has instructed aides and government agencies to simply take the land needed to build the wall, without following required eminent domain procedures or completing required environmental impact statements. Government officials claim that in private meetings, Trump has assured agency representatives that if they must break the law to acquire the land, he will issue a to protect them.
Congressional Democrats plan to investigate the matter, while White House aides have claimed that Trump’s statement about pardons was a “joke”. In a tweet, Trump himself claimed that the entire report was “fake news”:
In the same tweet, Trump alleged that his promised border wall is “going up rapidly”. That statement is verifiably false.
As of the writing of this article, just 60 miles of border barrier have been built during the two and a half years of the Trump Administration. Most of this construction (actually all of it, according to Fox News host Shepard “Shep” Smith) has simply replaced existing fencing in poor condition. Even by the most generous accounting, in which all of the construction completed so far is counted as completely new wall, 60 miles represents just 13% of the 450-500 miles that Trump has promised to build by the end of 2020.