New York Times
By Ron Nixon
April 18, 2017
WASHINGTON — President Trump’s plans to build a border wall could cost more than three times as much as initial estimates, Senate Democrats said in a report released on Tuesday, adding that the administration has yet to provide Congress with evidence to show that a wall would be effective in stopping the flow of illegal immigration and drugs.
The report said the border wall could cost nearly $70 billion to build and $150 million a year to maintain. An internal report by the Department of Homeland Security said the wall could cost about $21.6 billion, not including maintenance.
The report, which was prepared by the Democratic staff of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, also found that the construction of a wall would require taking hundreds of acres of private land at a cost of millions to taxpayers and would divert money from crucial mobile video surveillance technology.
“The staff just wanted to summarize where we are at this point, given the lack of substantive answers coming from the administration,” said Drew Pusateri, a spokesman for Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri and ranking member on the committee.
The Department of Homeland Security said that it was still studying the best places to construct such barriers, and that it was premature to discuss cost estimates.
The report comes as Congress prepares to vote on a stopgap funding measure to avoid a potential government shutdown on April 28.
Republican leaders, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan, have said that funding for a border wall could be put off until next year, as he and other congressional leaders try to overcome both Democratic opposition to the project and Republican concerns about spending large amounts.
In his budget request to Congress, Mr. Trump asked for $1.4 billion to pay for the initial development of the wall. The Department of Homeland Security said enough funding had been moved from other programs to begin construction. The department has diverted $20 million from other programs at the agency to begin construction of border wall prototypes.
Despite the lack of dedicated funding, the Trump administration has moved forward. Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, said more than 230 companies had submitted proposals to build border wall prototypes.
According to briefing documents from the agency, the first new section of the wall will be built on a short strip of federally owned land in San Diego, where there is already fencing.
John F. Kelly, the homeland security secretary, told members of Congress this month that it was doubtful that a wall along the full border with Mexico would ever be built, despite the oft-repeated campaign promise by Mr. Trump.
“It is unlikely that we will build a wall from sea to shining sea,” Mr. Kelly told senators on the Homeland Security Committee.
On Tuesday, in a combative speech at George Washington University, Mr. Kelly took on his congressional critics, saying that Homeland Security employees have been used as political pawns.
“If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws,” Mr. Kelly said. “Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”
The wall construction is a continuing point of contention between the administration and congressional Democrats.
According to agency documents, construction of a wall in the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas is a priority. The area has been a central entry point for asylum seekers fleeing persecution in Central America and a popular smuggling route for drug cartels.
In some areas, smugglers can in minutes cross the Rio Grande, hide in the thick scrub and make their way into urban areas. The department has proposed building a 28-mile levee wall in one area and an additional six-mile barrier system near Rio Grande City.
Funding aside, Mr. Trump’s border wall may face other obstacles, as the number of people caught trying to sneak into the United States has dropped. In March, apprehensions and arrests along the Mexican border plummeted to the lowest monthly figure in more than 17 years, Mr. Kelly said during his speech on Tuesday.
He said the steep decline was attributable to the president’s hard-line approach to illegal immigration.
Mr. Kelly said his department had not yet changed how the border is patrolled. But he said Mr. Trump’s tough stance on illegal immigration had probably deterred people from trying to enter the country.
“The numbers are lower because we are serious about securing our borders and enforcing our immigrations laws,” Mr. Kelly said.
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