Donald Trump’s acceptance speech last night at the Republican National Convention was high on fear-mongering and low on policy specifics. Not surprisingly, one specific policy he did bring up was his promise to “build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities.” (Although, as the Washington Post pointed out, he left out his promise to make Mexico pay for it.)
Trump’s promise to build a wall along the entire border with Mexico has been a cornerstone of a campaign that has cast Mexicans and Mexican Americans as frightening outsiders and criminals. It’s not a serious policy proposal. Instead, it’s rhetorical prop for a campaign that relies on stirring up fear of outsider.
As the Anti-Defamation League has explained, building a wall along the entire border would be “impractical and very likely ineffective”:
A wall or a fence along the entire border with Mexico would be impractical and very likely ineffective. The border between the U.S. and Mexico is almost 2,000 miles long. It spans difficult terrain, including deserts and mountains. Rivers flow along two thirds of the border. Much of the area is private property, which the government would have to buy from the owners to build a fence or wall, and many do not want to sell the land. The logistics alone make building a wall very difficult, if not impossible.
A handful of conservatives, recognizing this reality, have recently attempted to give Trump an out by acknowledging that he won’t actually build a wall but is instead talking about a “virtual” or metaphorical wall.
Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, an enthusiastic supporter of Trump, said earlier this month that “it’s going to end up having to be a virtual wall,” saying that aerial surveillance and “strategically placed walls” in urban areas are a more effective border control strategy than a literal wall along 2,000 miles of border. “You can buy a predator drone for what two miles of wall costs,” he said.
Another Republican congressman who’s supporting Trump, Rep. Chris Collins of New York, has also claimed that Trump’s wall will be “virtual,” telling a newspaper, “Maybe we will be building a wall over some aspects of it; I don’t know.”
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has also endorsed Trump, has also claimed that Trump is speaking only metaphorically about a wall, saying, “It’s a wall, but it’s a technological wall, it’s a digital wall … There are some that hear this is going to be 1,200 miles from Brownsville to El Paso, 30-foot high, and listen, I know you can’t do that. ”
Even Dan Stein, the head of the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform, has acknowledged that Trump’s wall isn’t a real thing.
“The wall is a surrogate for getting the border under control,” Stein said last month. “There have been physical structures in place down there since the 1980s. You need physical structures at certain high entry points to channel traffic. Ranchers who are out there in the middle of nowhere, they don’t see why you would need a border wall.”
“The wall is a surrogate for border control operations,” Stein added. “What [Trump’s] saying is he’s gonna get the job done. People who believe he’s actually gonna put a brick on every centimeter of 2,000 miles are in a sense mistaking his intention. The language he’s using is what you use in a political campaign, and if you take Hillary Clinton at her word, then she wants to embrace a limitless immigration platform.”
These aren’t people who object to Trump’s fiercely anti-immigrant agenda. But they do acknowledge that his wall proposal would be an ineffective way to achieve even his draconian anti-immigrant goals.
Trump is conning his supporters with tales of his building prowess and vows to build a “big, fat, beautiful wall.”
He isn’t proposing a border wall as a serious solution to a serious problem. Instead, it’s a rhetorical prop in his campaign of demonizing and scapegoating immigrants, and even some of his allies are admitting it.