Fulfilling one of his first campaign promises, Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to begin the process of building a physical 2,000-mile wall along the border between the United States and Mexico. The executive order was one of two that Trump featured during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security, speaking in front of an audience that included department employees as well as “relatives of people killed by illegal immigrants,” according to Reuters.
Under the order, the Secretary of Homeland Security will have six months to conduct a study “that shall include the current state of southern border security, all geophysical and topographical aspects of the southern border, the availability of Federal and State resources necessary to achieve complete operational control of the southern border, and a strategy to obtain and maintain complete operational control of the southern border.”
“We are in the middle of a crisis on our southern border: The unprecedented surge of illegal migrants from Central America is harming both Mexico and the United States,” Trump said, adding, “A nation without borders is not a nation.”
Outcry against the action was swift and fierce. “The border wall is about political theater at the expense of civil liberties,” said Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition immigrant advocacy group.
Echoing former President Obama’s executive actions approach to immigration policy, Trump indicated he could act without Congressional approval, saying he would “work within the existing system and framework.”
“We do not need new laws,” Trump said.
Executive orders, however, do not equate to policy implementation. The border wall is estimated to cost as much as $25 billion, which would require spending authority from Congress, even in the highly improbable event that Mexico were to change its mind and accede to Trump’s demand that it reimburse the U.S. for the construction costs. (Trump even mentioned a discount to Mexico if it were to make a one-time payment of $5 billion to $10 billion.) It should be remembered that Obama signed an executive order in 2009 directing that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be closed. The facility is still open because Congress refused to appropriate the funds necessary to implement the executive order.
There is no question that building a border wall would be a massive public works project. However, there is significant question whether it would be effective in securing the border. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) favors a comprehensive immigration policy overhaul rather than Trump’s (and most Republicans’) “border security first” strategy. During a December 2016 visit to Mexico, McCain also said, “I believe that we need to have significant improvements in border enforcement, but I believe the way that you do that is technology primarily.”—Michael Wyland