A section of the border wall near Camp Lonestar.

Trump’s Wall Will Be a More Inept Version of George W. Bush’s

A border wall from the Pacific to the Gulf is unviable, but Trump and his people will settle for less.


A version of this story ran in the February 2017 issue.

A section of the border wall near Camp Lonestar.
A stretch of existing fence along the Texas Border.  Jen Reel

In June 2015, the traveling circus that was the Trump campaign came to Laredo for a little political pachanga. That was about 6,492 news cycles ago, but perhaps you’ll recall Trump’s theatrics. Just a month earlier, he’d referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” while promising to have Mexico pay for a border wall from sea to shining sea.

By coming to Laredo, Trump said he was putting himself in “great danger” — as if he were in Sinaloa banging on El Chapo’s front door rather than visiting one of the safest cities in the United States. He traveled the streets of Laredo with dozens of motorcycle cops in tow. After the Border Patrol union rescinded its offer to give Trump a tour, he spent all of four hours in Laredo. Of his border security plans, Trump had virtually nothing concrete to offer. However, he did make one tiny admission: “You have to have a wall. In certain sections.”

Those three wiggle words — “in certain sections” — barely registered, but they indicate that Trump knew he would never be able to build his ludicrous wall as advertised. In a sense, the slogan of a “big, beautiful wall” was just that — a symbol, a xenophobic crowdpleaser, the political equivalent of “Freebird.”

The critics were right, of course. Building a wall (or, more accurately, a fence) across the 1,933-mile Southwestern border is preposterous (as this month’s “State of Texas” illustrates). But what they — we — missed is that most of his supporters will settle for less. They do expect him to do something. And that something is likely to be an even more inept repeat of George W. Bush’s Secure Fence Act of 2006 — the last time a Republican administration bowed to nativist pressure to contain immigration.

That law authorized 700 miles of fencing and allowed the secretary of Homeland Security to suspend any federal statutes that stood in his way and legally bulldoze any citizen or local government that objected. Landowners had their acreage seized through eminent domain, and vital wildlife refuges were desecrated. The fence causes flooding, it’s expensive to maintain and binational communities consider it an insult to their way of life. It’s also pointless. Desperate people find a way — around, through or under.

Not that any of this will matter to Trump and his people. The president promised a wall, and a wall (or something resembling it) he must deliver. The advantage to opponents this time is that they’ve been down this road before. Not only that, the Bushies took all the plum locations. The key is for border folks, fronterizos, to find their voice. Those “certain sections” of which Trump speaks are someone’s home.

This article appears in the February 2017 issue of the Texas Observer. Read more from the issue or subscribe now.