Editorials

EDITORIAL

Mexico’s not paying for the wall. Are we?

HIDALGO, TX - MARCH 16: A road crew improves a road along the U.S.-Mexico border on March 16, 2017 in Hidalgo, Texas. There has been great speculation on exactly where a border wall, promised by President Trump, would be built near the Rio Grande, which forms the border between Texas and Mexico. U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that illegal crossings along the southwest border with Mexico dropped 40 percent during the month of February. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
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Where would the wall go? A road crew improves a road along the US-Mexico border in Hidalgo, Texas.

So, about that wall with Mexico.

Donald Trump promised during the campaign that he’d build a big, beautiful wall at the southern border, and that he’d use his magic touch to force the Mexican government to pay for it.

But it turns out that Mexico doesn’t want to. ¡Qué lástima!

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So instead, Trump wants American taxpayers to shell out the billions it would cost. His budget request filed on Thursday asked for $2 billion in taxpayer money to begin construction, one of the many outrageous aspects of the proposal. The administration has insisted that Mexico will still pay for the wall, just at some later, unspecified date.

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To front taxpayer money for such a ridiculous project would be a scandal, and Trump’s promise that Mexico will reimburse the United States for the wall later is as disingenuous as his promise that they’d pay for it in the first place. On what planet would a Mexican government want to spend its money on such a crazy scheme?

Congressional Republicans should reject the request. Especially when the administration is proposing cuts to a slew of other agencies and programs — from the Coast Guard to the National Endowment for the Arts — it would be folly to waste taxpayer money on a wall. If Republican elected officials fear crossing the president, they can truthfully say that they are only holding him to his own campaign promise to make Mexico fund the barrier instead.

But Congress needs to send the message loud and clear that it won’t pay for Trump’s boondoggle. After all, the $2 billion is just
a small down payment. The southern border is 2,000 miles long, and much of it passes through uninhabited desert. There’s no real certainty how much a wall that length would cost; Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell estimated it would cost $12-15 billion, but that may be optimistic.

And it’s a mistake to imagine that sneaking across a border in the middle of nowhere is a common way for illegal immigrants to enter the country, when overstaying a visa poses far fewer risks.

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But if Trump insists, there is another way to begin the wall immediately while waiting for Mexico to pay: Let Trump himself assume the financial risks. Rather than defunding important government programs to cover upfront costs, the president can dip into his own fortune to build the wall and then send the bills southward.

It’s hardly a risk at all, since as a star negotiator he’s sure to get Mexico’s money.

Right?