According to “The Guardian“, on Sunday August 30th, Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker said the building of a wall on the United States’ border with Canada was “a legitimate issue for us to look at”.
Despite the novelty value of proposing a wall along the 49th parallel, and the controversy that Walker’s comment has already prompted on both sides of the border, the Wisconsin governor was addressing an increasingly familiar refrain on the contentious election issue of immigration.
Politicians in the US have long dreamt of constructing a barrier on the nation’s southern border, to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico and points southward. But some academics and Republican politicians argue that such a concept – to erect a physical blockade as successful politics – may be ineffective.
While the 2016 race for the White House develops, and within it a whole subplot among a 17-strong Republican field driven to extremes on the question of immigration, Donald Trump has pushed the issue of border security to the fore – and his fellow contenders further to the right. He thinks the best way forward is, quite simply, to build a southern wall.
Trump, the clear poll leader among Republicans, has repeatedly called for a wall along the length of the US-Mexico border, to be paid for by Mexico.
“I would do something very severe unless they contributed or gave us the money to build the wall,” he said in June, adding: “I would build it. I’m very good at building things.”
As with remarks from Trump about Mexican immigrants, this did not go over well. Earlier this month, the Mexican foreign ministry called such plans “prejudiced and absurd” and “detrimental to the well-being of both societies”.
Undaunted, Trump has argued that it would be feasible to build such a barrier, citing as evidence the Great Wall of China, next to which his wall would cost “peanuts”.
In reality, such a project would face major practical obstacles.
Aside from the physical challenge presented by the building of a wall through thousands of miles of isolated and rugged southwestern terrain, much of that terrain is environmentally sensitive.
Under George W Bush, the last Republican occupant of the White House, the federal government explored the concept. It found that the construction of mere fencing along even sections of the border presented an array of legal issues. Many were due to the presence of vital animal habitats.
Much of the land along the US-Mexico border is also privately owned, which would increase costs. Large stretches of the border also runs through Indian reservations, which would present additional legal obstacles as well.
In the face of such evidence, even some of the most hawkish members of Congress have backed away from calling for a wall, to demand instead “smart border security”. That means the use of drones and seismic detectors, in lieu of a physical barrier.
Even “smart border security” has its problems. Recently the neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Trump’s closest challenger in current polls, was forced to defend his advocacy of the use of armed drones to police the Mexican border.
Carson first told reporters: “You look at some of these caves and things out there; one drone strike, boom, and they’re gone.”
He was then forced to clarify that he only wanted to blow up empty caves, telling CNN: “In no way did I suggest using drones to kill people. How ridiculous.”
While there is a consensus among the Republican presidential field about the need for stronger security measures at the border, some candidates, however, have dared to expressed skepticism about Trump’s call for a wall.
On Sunday, even as Walker was turning his gaze north, the former Florida governor Jeb Bush said told a conservative radio host that “a wall doesn’t work”.
“It just doesn’t work,” Bush said. “You can’t build a wall on the rugged terrain that exists there.”
Even if a wall along the US were to be built at the demands of some future White House occupant, it would present an imperfect deterrent, because such walls rarely work.
Much of the US border with Mexico already has physical obstructions to unauthorized entry. Tunnels are often found under such obstructions, many allowing drug smugglers to move their product.
In the modern age, any southern border wall would likely become a Mexican Maginot Line, the French defensive system which in 1940 the Germans simply bypassed. The smugglers, of people as well as drugs, could simply find alternative routes.
Furthermore, as Douglas Massey, professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton and co-director of that university’s Mexican Migration Project, haspointed out, a wall may paradoxically help to keep more illegal immigrants insidethe US than out.
This, Massey writes, would be due – among other factors – to a wall’s stifling effect on so-called “circular” migration, a process in which migrant workers pass in and out of countries as the availability of work dictates.
During the radio show on Sunday, Bush pressed his case against Trump’s entire immigration plan.
“What Donald Trump is proposing is a wall that can’t be built,” he said. “And if it was to be built it would be hundreds of billions of dollars.
“He wants everybody to be deported, which will tear family life asunder, would cost an arm and a leg, hundred of billions of dollars again and it will probably be unconstitutional.
“It’s not realistic and it’s not conservative,” Bush said.
If such fierce opposition from within his own party cannot produce a sufficiently resounding end to Trump’s wall concept, there is one more obstacle to consider: even his model, the Great Wall of China, did not quite work.
The portion of the Great Wall that is an international tourist attraction today was built by the Ming dynasty between the 15th and 17th centuries, to keep out adversaries including the Mongol hordes. Beset by invaders, the Ming dynasty fell in 1644.
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