COMMENTARY: A campaign promise was made, and this week a military spending bill in the U.S. House quietly includes almost $1.6 billion for that promise — a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
American taxpayers were further promised, as a package deal, that Mexico would pay for it. This double promise seemed intended to make the wall more palatable because, no matter how impractical it was, it wouldn’t cost us anything.
Exactly how many tens of billions of dollars it will take to construct the wall is not clear at this point, especially given the number of shifts in just what the wall will be and how much of the border it will actually cover. The sociological, environmental and financial costs, however, remain starkly clear for border residents like those I represent in our city of Las Cruces.
No matter what leadership in Washington, D.C., may offer to justify this massive expenditure and no matter who actually pays for it, this wall says to our neighbor, “We fear you, and we have no respect for you.”
That has cultural and trade implications in a region where many generations have had families, friendships, and businesses that straddle the border, even some that predate it. While there’s no way to put a dollar amount on the cultural impact, we see how it threatens our community. The brutal presence of such a wall on our horizon would be oppressive, even on our side, and the very idea abuses the roots and branches of families and neighbors who know this region as home.
The divisiveness it symbolizes is deeply felt here.
The economic damage of harming our relationship with our neighbor to the south, a relationship that is so much a part of our local border economy, would also be devastating. Just south of Las Cruces, in Santa Teresa, for example, dozens of companies have invested $716 million and brought thousands of jobs to our county since 2007.
This includes companies like Foxconn, which transports daily roughly 55,000 tablet computers northbound on behalf of HP Inc. through the port of entry in Santa Teresa. Mexico is also a top export destination for southwest border states, and New Mexico has annually exported nearly $1 billion in merchandise in recent years, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data.
The Los Angeles Times reported one of the first locations soil-tested for building the wall includes a wildlife refuge in south Texas. Building the wall there, conservation experts warn, would be disastrous for wildlife trapped during flood season. We have to consider similar impacts to our wildlife here.
It must also be said that water is a precious resource here. We can have long spells with no rain and no water in the Rio Grande, with wild storms occasionally dumping overwhelming amounts of water in short periods of time. A wall that can block people is all too likely to also block the flow of water, leading to drought in some places and flooding in others.
The Army Corps of Engineers has also begun soil tests near here in El Paso, Texas, and in Sunland Park, pretty clearly indicating where two other early stretches of wall are expected to be.
Congress should be transparent about what this week’s vote means for American taxpayers. It will cost us (estimates range from $15 billion to $67 billion), and much of the burden to pay for construction and maintenance will be borne on this side of the border. Mexico won’t pay for this package deal.
Instead, our government could spend these billions of dollars more pragmatically, such as monitoring the border in more technologically advanced ways, combating drug abuse and dependence, and responding to the number of people arriving at our border seeking safety and a better life in more humane ways.
It was my honor to author the resolution passed by the City Council of Las Cruces in February that expressed our opposition to the construction of this border wall. I was proud to join my colleagues on the City Council of the second largest city in the state of New Mexico in a nearly unanimous vote objecting to this mistake.
It is also critical to note that no matter how many ways we may disagree on other topics in New Mexico, our U.S. representatives and senators from both sides of the aisle all agree that a wall will be a mistake.
Border residents and all Americans deserve better than a closed and wasteful process that ignores economic, environmental and human realities in our region.
Gregory Z. Smith represents District 2 on the Las Cruces City Council and is the mayor pro tem.