As word trickles out of the shutdown negotiations in the Senate, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there may be a compromise in the offing. But it’s still a long ways off. At this point, the two sides appear to be arguing primarily over semantics and, to a lesser degree, cost when it comes to the border barrier. The President is publicly insisting that he’s sticking to his guns and wants $5B for 215 miles of “wall.” But privately, the White House has indicated that they might settle for something between the $5B and the $1.3B that Chuck Schumer has been offering.
But that’s not all. The Senate Minority Leader also won’t cut a deal unless it’s called a fence, not a wall. And the steel slat structure that the President is pushing at the moment does have gaps in it so it certainly has a “fence” type of look to it. Further, this version of the barrier is going to cost $23.3M per mile. That’s more than quadruple the cost of fencing put up during the Obama administration, which cost an average of $5M per mile. DHS points out that this “barrier system” includes at least two layers and a high-speed road running between them, explaining the higher cost. The Washington Times has a good rundown of the current state of negotiations.
The department said it’s not fair to compare that price tag to the $4 million to $6 million per mile of fence spent on projects during the Obama administration. Officials said what is being built now is a “system,” which includes the barrier as well as a roadway to allow Border Patrol agents easy access.
“If you’ve built 1 mile of border wall, you’ve built 1 mile of border wall,” an official said.
The places where the wall has worked best involve at least two or sometimes three tiers of fencing, with one tier up against the border, then a high-speed road, then the next tier or two. That way, immigrants who manage to climb over the first fence will have to surmount the second one, while on U.S. soil, and with agents patrolling the road.
That is the kind of fencing built in the Clinton and Bush years in San Diego and in Yuma, Arizona. In each of those places, the multitier fencing helped cut illegal immigrant arrests by more than 90 percent.
It’s also worth pointing out that DHS isn’t talking about a single, 215 stretch of the border to be reinforced. The initial plan would put this round of fencing up in four locations. Two would be in Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley area, and in Laredo. The rest would go up in western Arizona and eastern California. All of this is seen as just an opening gambit, with the end goal being 700 miles of new barrier over the next couple of years.
Doesn’t that sound like a deal that could be made before the new class of Congress is seated? It should, but the lunchroom antics we’re seeing in these negotiations make it seem less likely than it might. In olden times, they could have roughly split the difference and just approved $2.7B and sent out the construction crews to get started. But it sounds like Chuck Schumer is sticking to his number and doesn’t want to waver.
And does the final dollar figure even matter if these people are actually arguing over whether to call it a wall or a fence? Will the final signatures on the deal need to wait while they fight over who gets to use the swing set next? The bottom line here appears to be that there’s an obvious deal waiting to be made and it could have already been settled. But it still seems out of reach because of the stubborn actors involved in this passion play.