Although it seems like there’s some disagreement about when construction on the Trump wall will or did begin (President Trump insists over Twitter that it began back in late March), there’s one thing with which no one can argue: Building a wall spanning an entire border is not cheap. So, how much will Trump’s wall cost?
It’s easy to ask, how much will Trump’s wall cost, thinking only of the construction. After all, a lot of time and energy is going to go into it, and the battle over its very existence has been a constant presence in the news cycle since the election.
But that’s only part of the equation here. Ignoring all emotional and psychological costs (that’s a topic for a different debate), there’s still a big bill to pay as soon as the cranes and construction crews roll away from the Trump wall. We’re talking of course, about Trump’s announcement earlier this week that he would sign a proclamation deploying the National Guard to help patrol and monitor the border with Mexico. We break it down.
How much will Trump’s wall cost? What Trump claimed…
Since before the election, Trump was clear about his intentions to construct a wall along the approximately 2,000-mile border with Mexico -- but he claimed we would only need 1,000 miles of actual wall since the border already boasted “natural barriers” along the other 1,000 miles.
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Great, so where did the then yet-to-be president put the cost of the Trump wall? His initial claim was that the construction could be done for $4 billion. But then the number quickly inflated to $6 billion and then $7 billion. As of April 2017, that number had become less clear, but Trump was running with an estimation of $10 billion or less.
Cool, but what about actual numbers from construction companies that would potentially land the contract?
How much will Trump’s wall cost? Looking at supplies...
Sure, let’s start with the actual construction. Contract notices posted on the government website claims the Trump administration is looking for a 30-foot-high wall to be constructed along the border with Mexico that "looks good from the north side and is difficult to climb or cut through," as the Associated Press reported earlier this year.
Still estimates, even from qualified sources, vary wildly. A list of some of the initial projections compiled by Quartz included:
In July 2016, Bernstein Research, a firm that analyzes material costs, put the price tag at $15 billion to $25 billion, for a wall that stretches 1,000 miles and is 40 feet high, which was Trump’s initial desired height.
In January 2017, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said the wall would be $12 billion to $15 billion.
In February 2017, a leaked report from the Department of Homeland Security put it much higher, at $21.6 billion.
In April 2017, the Democratic staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said in a report that costs could soar to nearly $70 billion — not including the significant costs and legal resources required for land acquisition.
The one thing they all have in common? All of them clock in well above that “$10 billion or less” estimation given by the president last year.
But the number most likely to be accurate is probably that $21.6 billion, since it was leaked from a report done by the Department of Homeland Security. That number was used by Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, as the basis for his controversial claim that the cost of the Trump wall would be equivalent to “one and a half aircraft carriers.”
"Because this report was commissioned by (Department of Homeland Security) Secretary Kelly, and is based on the Trump administration’s own planning process to build walls and fences to cover almost the entirety of the border that is not already fenced, it is the best current estimate for what President Trump is likely to ask Congress to appropriate to build his border wall,” a spokesman for Peters, Jacob Peters, said in defence of the calculation.
For the record, Scott Peters slightly underestimated the cost of the Trump wall as compared to aircraft carriers, according to PolitiFact, which ran the numbers.
How much will Trump’s wall cost? Looking at the people…
But all of this was before Trump announced that he was going to have the border guarded by the National Guard. The estimation done by the Department of Homeland Security concerned three phases of construction of walls and fences. (For the record, it also didn’t factor in the cost the government would likely incur through obtaining the land on which they want to build. Though they would likely try to use eminent domain to obtain the land, chances of legislation are high.)
The National Guard is people, and people have to get paid for their work. So how much would it cost to have the National Guard patrol the border until the wall is constructed? It helps by looking at when this branch of the military was deployed by Obama to the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2010, the troops fixed infrastructure, conducted surveillance and processed arrests. “The 1,200 National Guard troops have helped Border Patrol agents apprehend 25,514 illegal immigrants at a cost of $160 million — or $6,271 for each person caught,” The Washington Post reported in 2011.
The exact date of that deployment and the number of National Guard troops called are details still in the works, so estimating the cost is difficult. “The DHS has not asked for specific numbers but rather presented the National Guard with the ‘mission’ that Customs and Border Protection would need support on, leaving it up to the Guard to determine what kind of deployment would meet that goal,” CNN reported. But however many troops are called (if they’re allowed to show up by their state’s governor), the cost would be an addition to the estimations we already have.