A costly U.S.-Mexico border wall, in both dollars and deaths

October 2, 2009

By Robin Emmott

Securing the United States’s border from illegal immigrants, terrorists and weapons of mass destruction “continues to be a major challenge,” says the United States Government Accountability Office in a new report. It is also proving to be expensive in both lives and money.

In dollar terms, the outlay is substantial. Every time someone breaks a hole in the U.S.-Mexico border wall, it costs about $1,300 to repair. The estimated cost of maintaining the 661-mile (1,058 km) double-layered fence along part of its 2,000-mile (3,000 km) border with Mexico over the next 20 years is $6.5 billion, the GAO report says. 

That is on top of the $3.7 billion allocated to the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Border Initiative since 2005 to build a system of fencing, lighting, sensors, cameras and radars to keep out job-hungry immigrants, terrorists and smugglers.

While border agents say the wall is a tool that helps them protect the United States, the GAO report found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection cannot accurately determine the fence’s impact on improving border security, suggesting the money might not be well spent.

“What a waste in resources and creativity ,” said Jorge Mario Cabrera Valladares of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). “Our tax dollars are being wasted on an ineffective, old strategy instead of urgently working on serious, long term, workable immigration reform,” he said.

Since the attacks on New York and Washington of Sept. 11, 2001, political pressure for tighter border controls has grown sharply and supporters of the border wall argue it is effective in keeping unwanted foreigners out.

But some border experts say the wall does not stop those trying to get into the United States and only makes it more dangerous, greatly raising the fees charged by people smugglers who charge up to $2 billion every year in Arizona alone. 

Some 5,600 people have died trying to cross into the United States since the U.S. government under President Bill Clinton dramatically increased border security in 1994 with Operation Gatekeeper and the first stretch of fence between San Diego and Tijuana.

That is according to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties and Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH), based on Mexico’s foreign ministry and media reports, who say the death of migrants is an international humanitarian crisis.

Before the stepped-up enforcement operations, experts say most deaths were due to traffic accidents as migrants dashed across freeways in border areas. Today, most die from hypothermia in the desert or by drowning in the Rio Grande and irrigation canals.

The U.S. Border Patrol’s body count for border crossers this year points to the continued dangers. While the U.S. recession has caused a sharp drop in arrests on the borderline,  Customs and Border Protection has reported 416 deaths so far in 2009. That compares with 390 last year and 398 in 2007.

U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to push comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but the issue has little lawmaker support as Americans lose jobs in the recession.

(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor)


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(1) Securing the borders to prevent illegal aliens (and criminals and terrorists) from crossing them; (2) Enforcing immigration laws; (3) Deporting newly-apprehended illegal aliens; (4) Deporting aliens who overstay their visas; (5) Denying “sanctuary cities” (that protect invaders) from receiving federal funds for aiding and abetting lawlessness; (6) Promoting English and assimilation in all U.S. institutions — not bilingualism or “multiculturalism.” (7) Controlling immigration so as to allow for workable assimilation. (8) Denial of most social services to illegal aliens; (9) Repelling Mexico’s interference in U.S. internal affairs; and (10) Elimination of birthright migration and chain migration “which put the alien’s desires before society’s well-being.”

Posted by Sam Jones | Report as abusive

This is an easy fix. Stop giving illegals jobs, health care, and representation. Legalize drugs, bring our military home, Re-tool America to be self-supportive once again, and return to the constitutional republic we are meant to be. Piece of cake.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

There they are, the ACLU “protecting” our rights. Why would anyone give that anti-American organization a dime?

Posted by Mears | Report as abusive

Giving illegals a path to legal citizenship will do nothing but increase the amount of border jumpers, not reduce it.

If someone tells you there is a job waiting on the other side of an alligator pit and you are eaten alive while crossing that pit, who is at fault?

A wall can’t be blamed for someone not using the brain they were born with…Liberal brainics sure aren’t using theirs…

Posted by Jonathan | Report as abusive

What’s teh fuss about?

We have a huge military with advanced technology- subject the border to 100% control.

I lived in West Berlin before the Wall came down and I saw how even the dysfunctional East Germans kept their borders hermetically sealed- and with no technology at all.

Posted by bob | Report as abusive

The US took half of Mexico and now expects Mexicans to sit back and suck it up?

You Americans are disgusting!!

Posted by Joe Buddha | Report as abusive

I am the world’s leading expert on the border fence. My web site proves it. The fence works. The DHS doesn’t know how well it works because it doesn’t want the public to know. Some repairs are costly because some of the fence is old and some of the fence was not designed properly.

If we finished the 700-mile double-layered fence it would all but stop drug smuggling, cut illegal immigration by more than 70% and allow us to reduce the Border Patrol by more than 3,000 positions.

Posted by Glenn Spencer | Report as abusive

Joe Buddha – ummmmmmm, need to read history a bit! Typical American with only a “local” political or historical perspective. Lets get folks who want all the illegals to make on their tax return – “charge me 50% on my taxes so I can pay for all the illegal benifits” – this way, the 20-30% who want all the illegals to have total benifits to pay for it OPENLY. If so, let them all come and I’ll be fine

Posted by Rick | Report as abusive

Anyone who wouldn’t cross a pit full of alligators in search of a job clearly isn’t going hungry. 😛

I think we are looking at this problem from a bad angle.. let’s put the human smugglers out of business by opening up the border but for a fee, we’ll even provide air conditioned buses. Think of the tax revenue and all the other huge benefits, like jobs.

But the tight lipped conservative population of Americans would have a problem with that because it would mean having to share a land that never actually belonged to them nor their blood line in the first place.

Posted by William Spendlove | Report as abusive

Maybe if illegal alien criminals ddn’t try to break into the US to rob, rape, murder & steal from us they wouldn’t have to fear dying whilst trying to break into our house…

Look bozos illegal aliens make the choice to steal and break into the US. Every country on earth controls their borders. A better way to deal with illegals though is just to have snipers on the border deal with them.

Posted by SPQR_US | Report as abusive

To Joe Buddha, the war between Mexico and America occurred in the mid-19th century with America being the victor and a peace treaty being signed between the two nations. America then payed Mexico about $300 million(in today’s dollars)for the land that they had already won and also assumed about $80 million debt that Mexico owed to American citizens.

Currently, the Mexican and American governments are on good terms with one another in spite of the immigration and drug trafficking problems. Please refrain from making this an issue of national sovereignty when it is clearly not. This is an issue of taxation and accountability for the millions of illegal immigrants that receive the benefits of being in America without following the rules like everyone else.

Do you think that if every Texan was given the option of voting to have Texas remain part of America or become a part of Mexico they would vote for the latter?

Posted by John Doe | Report as abusive

John Doe, you asked a good question. The answer is obviously America. Mexico is a mess. Of course many Mexican citizens take any chance they can to come to the United States, whether legally or not. You can sit on top of a shack in Mexico and see the border and better conditions just yards away, within reach. Who wouldn’t at least consider the option of crossing over? Living in a shack with little means for upward mobility, the only option would be to reach that goal illegally.

Maybe if we stopped allocating all of our funding toward building a better wall and increasing “security” and instead began working on viable solutions for Mexican econmic issues, we would be more secure. The rule of law in Mexico has failed and corruption and violence are commonplace. We share a border with Mexico and spend less time attempting to aid them for sustainable change than we do countries halfway across the world. True security does not come through control, but through collaboration (and realistically a little of both as the latter develops).

Posted by Sally | Report as abusive

Why isn’t the Mexican government doing more to help? If their country wasn’t in such a mess then less Mexican’s would want to come here. I can’t blame the decent people of Mexico who want to get out from under the cartels and poverty in Mexico. I think Jason makes a good point. Legalize all drugs. It would shut the cartels down almost immediately. And it’s not like the drugs aren’t already here. Ask any police officer or DEA man. Mexican drugs can be bought anywhere in America right now. Education, clinics to help the drug users and strict drug testing by employers will shut the drugs down. Particularly when there is no longer a lucrative drug market for the criminals. More than half the people in this country are incarcerated because of drugs. Making drugs illegal is causing substantially more damage than legalization ever will. Prohibition didn’t work either. Make drugs legal, tax them and shut down the criminal enterprises.

Posted by bill in arizona | Report as abusive

Correction, more than half the people incarcerated in this country are because of drugs.

Posted by bill in arizona | Report as abusive

If the United States would invade and take over Mexico, maybe even make it a state, we wouldn’t have all these problems. That would be the most effective use of our military. Besides, all the Mexicans are coming here anyway, so why not just take over?

Posted by Mufaso | Report as abusive

Even Ulises S Grant called the mexican/U.S. war a travesty of justice. Open the border!Make Mexico a new state. Teach social responsibility in the national school system. Teach people how they can work together to make democracy work. It’s about time the U.S. took responsibility for it’s actions and it’s also time for Mexicans to become responsible citizens.

Posted by Maca | Report as abusive

The issue here, is the US protecting itself from invading aliens, who have no RIGHT TO BE HERE AT ALL, AND AMERICAN CITIZENS WHO DO NOT WANT THEM HERE. If you are not wanted somewhere you should stay home and out of other peoples homes, countries or whatever. Unwanted people need to stay OUT. This is also a war of sovereignty people. These are criminals, breaking our laws, coming into our country and homes, robbing from us and stealing what DOES NOT BELONG TO THEM. I believe they should be arrested, prosecutes and put into prison, and then after release, photographed, fingerprinted, DNA taken and all put into a national database, and then deported, so that if they come back to this country, they will be immediately arrested and reprisoned, this time for life. These people can be and are dangerou. Look how many illegal Mexican aliens have committed, horrible, brutal, disgusting crimes in this this. They are a menacious and blight on this country, and they breed like rats. Hispanics need to discover birth control. They can barely afford to have one child, but do they stop there. NO! They have 4,5,6,7,78,9 and never stop. And please do not start with their religion, because it is a bigger sin to have children you can not take care of, than it is to have no children.

Posted by dk | Report as abusive

Do any of you think Texas would really want to be part of Mexico. That country is and has always been a disaster. Hell, 90% of the people there live in poverty, are uneducated and do not have the backbone to stand up to the top 10% and force them to get out, and make their country better. It is a hell of a note that Mexico is over what 1000 years old and the US is 300 and something, but Mexico is and always has been a total wreck. Well, get off out backs and take care of your own country, and get out of ours. WE DO NOT WANT YOU HERE.

Posted by dk | Report as abusive

you know what to all of those who want mexicans to get out of your country go to hell because if it wasn’t for them then your damn country would have gotten taken over by the french and also because they are the ones who do all of the low paying jobs because americans are to lazy and ambitious and won’t do jobs who pay less than the minimum wage.

Posted by maggi | Report as abusive

Hey Jonathan… If you would have the chance to risk your life trying to cross the alligator pit to get a job, or stay in your side of the pit and watch your kids starve till they die… What would you do?

You aren’t any different than the mexicans… You just got lucky you were born a couple of miles apart.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

History is on the side against walls and other unnecessary BS to distract us from the real problems and the real solutions. Today, on the anniversary of the Berlin Wall, mark my words: This wall too shall come down. And then all of you radical xenophobes will ponder what could’ve been done with all that wasted money.

Posted by Carol | Report as abusive

What’s wrong with demanding Mexico pay all cost to keep ‘their’ people out of ‘our’ land?

Mexico seems to have the easy part.

Why don’t the Mexicans fight for their rights like the good ol’ U.S.ofA. fore fathers and mothers did?
Well, I guess since we make it easy for them to come over to the U.S., why waste their time fighting when they can cross a boarder and enjoy what’s already been done.

Illigals have more rights the the ‘born here’ people.

Oh, I forgot, the also cross the boarder to pop out their kids………that way they will be ‘born here’.

Posted by lynnejaj | Report as abusive

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