About DukeEngage Tucson 2010

Immigration is perhaps the single largest domestic challenge facing both the United States and Mexico today. People die nearly every week attempting to cross the border. Hostilities against immigrants in the U.S. rise daily. Local, state, and international relations are increasingly strained.

For eight weeks this summer, seven students have been given the opportunity to travel to Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico to study the many faces of immigration. Following two weeks of meetings with local activists, a Border Patrol agent, a federal public defender, lawyers, members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, maquiladora owners, Grupos Beta employees, migrants, and local farmers, we will spend six weeks partnered with Southside Day Labor Camp, BorderLinks, or Humane Borders in order to further immerse ourselves in the issues of immigration.

This blog chronicles our experiences and our perspectives on what we learn while here in Arizona. We hope our stories are interesting and informative.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Part 1: Putting a Price Tag on the Border Wall

The wall captured in the image above is made of pieces of metal once used as landing strips at bases in Iraq. It costs roughly $12 million per mile to construct and $6 million per mile, per year to maintain. And it is only one of 647 miles of already existing border wall.

Construction on the border wall between the US and Mexico began in 1994 shortly after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to a long time resident of Nogales, Mexico, before 1994 there was merely a chain link fence marking the US-Mexico border.. At other points, barbed wire fence marked the border. In others, only the occasional geological marker showed where one country ended and the other began. The cost of building and maintaining the border was little to nothing.

Today the wall is made of everything from landing strip walls to barbed wire fences to vehicle barriers to metal bars to nothing. The cheapest segment of wall costs $431,000 per mile to build. The most expensive, $12 million per mile. As of today, roughly $2.4 billion dollars has been spent on wall construction. That is roughly $6.5 million dollars per day.

In addition to basic construction, though, any calculation of the cost of the border wall must consider the cost of land acquisition. Customs and Border Patrol estimates this cost at at $.8 million per mile. Environmental mitigation costs roughly $50 million a year. The constantly changing costs of fuel, labor, and materials are not measurable, but could raise the price of wall construction even further. Wall maintenance ranges from $5 to $8 million per mile per year. In seven years, the cost of maintaining the fence will have exceeded the cost of primary construction.

And all this cost is to what end?

The Border Patrol admits that the wall slows migrants down by an average of only five minutes. Without a ladder, it may take a few more. Is five minutes worth 2.4 billion dollars?

The wall is supposed to keep out terrorists and drug runners. If an average migrant is slowed by only 5 minutes, is a trained terrorist or a drug runner really going to be hindered?

Data shows that there has been a drop in immigration over the past few years, but can this drop in immigration be attributed to the wall or the economy? At Southside Day Labor Center in Tucson, AZ seventy to eighty men used to be picked up for work each day. This summer, we are lucky to see eight men go out. Some days, only two leave. There is no work. Is the bad economy the real wall?

The border wall comes at a high monetary cost. What if this money were spent on employing US citizens, teaching our children, opening rest stops, or repairing roads instead? What if it were spent on supporting local economies in Mexico so people didn’t need to migrate? $2.4 billion dollars can go a long way. Five minutes does not seem worth the cost.

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