If due to a political miracle Donald J. Trump is elected the 45th president of the United States, it is highly unlikely that he will fulfill his most prominent and visual campaign promise – the building of a wall along the U.S.– Mexico border.
Ironically, the barrier between Trump and his signature political project will be precisely what Trump continuously rails against – a bloated, ineffective, and inefficient U.S. government bureaucracy that (in Trump’s words) prevents our nation from “winning.”
Shortly after his inauguration when Trump attempts to make the wall “shovel-ready,” he will learn first-hand the sad truth behind his statement, “We don’t build anymore. We had our day.”
Those words conflict with what Trump told the Washington Post in a July 2015 interview and could potentially haunt him: “Building a wall is easy, and it can be done inexpensively. It’s not even a difficult project if you know what you’re doing.”
In what could be interpreted as a large dose of political reality, Trump appeared to be laying the groundwork for eventually describing the wall as “a suggestion.” That was the exact phrase he used on Fox News when asked about his other infamous campaign promise — a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. On May 13, in response to a question by Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade, Trump said, “Look, anything I say right now – I’m not the president. Everything is a suggestion, no matter what you say, it’s a suggestion.”
At this writing, Trump has yet to relegate the building of the wall to the suggestion box because he still uses it as crowd-pleaser in his stage act. That is when he shouts to his arena crowds: “Who is going to pay for the wall?” and they scream back, “Mexico.”
But the sooner Trump admits that his beloved wall is actually a crash-barrier for an alphabet soup of federal agencies, fewer of his political bones will be broken.
In actuality, the process of building a new wall is emblematic of why old America is crumbling and, to quote Trump, the reason “we don’t build anymore.”
To illustrate why Trump’s wall has practically no chance of ever being built, CNN’s Chris Moody recently produced the clever video, “How a Bill Becomes a Wall.” In six minutes, an animated character named “Wall” is progressively wrapped in red tape as he learns about the myriad complications, governmental minefields and legal obstacles standing in the way of what is essentially a “yuge” federal infrastructure project spanning 1,954 miles with building costs estimated between $10 and 25 billion.
Briefly, the wall’s never-ending journey starts as a bill making its way through Congress. Yes, we know, good luck with that. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say the bill authorizing and funding the wall passes through Congress and President Trump signs it into law.
Now the real obstacles begin as the wall confronts its own barrier, the federal bureaucracy.
The first stop is the Department of Homeland Security because, after all, the wall is being built to control immigration and beef-up border security. With this enormous maze of an agency largely in charge of the entire project, that right there is a harbinger of failure. In addition, two agencies within Homeland Security would also be involved, the Border Patrol and U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement — since Trump’s wall will have, in his words, “big beautiful doors.”
After getting tangled (or strangled) at Homeland Security, the following is a list of federal agencies and departments that would put their own “bricks in the wall” in the form of studies, regulatory oversight, and guidance.
The State Department will study the wall for many years to determine its impact on our relationship with our southern neighbor.
The Army Corps of Engineers under the Department of Defense would be involved with design and building.
The Department of Labor, must be involved with any large-scale federal construction project. Labor would in turn bring in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission overseeing lawful hiring practices and The Occupational Health and Safety Administration overseeing workplace accidents.
The Department of Interior will be well represented with four agencies because the land upon which the wall would be built touches each one: The National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Environmental Protection Agency will need to provide an environmental impact statement and that could take years given the 2,000 miles of diverse terrain.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will need to issue a plan because the potential for flooding exists along the 1,000 miles bordering the Rio Grande.
The Department of Agriculture must assess how the wall will impact farmland.
The Department of Transportation will deal with federal roads near the wall.
The Commerce Department will have its say because Mexico is among our largest trading partners and Commerce would involve the International Trade Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Economic Development Administration.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be involved because of the way Trump is proposing to pay for the wall — blocking Mexicans in the United States from sending remittances back to their relatives unless the Mexican government foots the entire bill.
Federal courts will be involved because there will be numerous lawsuits over many aspects of building the wall. Then the chances are high that the entire project will end up before the Supreme Court.
Sprinkled among those lawsuits will be eminent domain cases given that there are large parcels of privately-owned lands stretching across the four Mexican border states — California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
Reminiscent of the hurdles facing Trump’s wall are the words spoken by President Obama in 2011, “Shovel-ready was not as … uh shovel-ready as we expected.” That was after he discovered the snail’s pace of all the infrastructure projects he had touted for his 2009 economic-stimulus plan.
Therefore, opponents of the wall fear not because this wall is never likely to be “shovel-ready.” My guess is the U.S. will have colonized the rings of the planet Saturn before we ever have a wall along our southern border.