Because the world we live in is more dangerous than our parents’ was, and our children are set to inherit a world more dangerous than ours, Congress must get right our mandated mission to provide for the common defense of our country. With a unified Republican government, we now have a commander in chief who takes protecting our borders as seriously as Congress does.
But taking action for action’s sake rarely leads to positive results. Our leaders have the solemn obligation to know the proper steps to take before acting upon them, and building a wall from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf Coast of Texas is a third-century solution to a 21st-century problem.
President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on border security is vague when it comes to what the term “physical barrier” means. I am hoping that our new secretary of Homeland Security is afforded significant latitude regarding the implementation of this order. I agree with Secretary John Kelly’s comments during his confirmation hearing that a wall does not solve our security problems. In fact, building a wall from sea to shining sea would be the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border.
For the past eight years, we had an administration with a one-size-fits-all approach to border security. We must change the strategy, not simply adopt a different one-size-fits-all solution. Each sector of the border faces unique geographical, cultural and technological challenges that would be best addressed with a flexible, sector-by-sector approach that empowers the Border Patrol agents on the ground with the resources they need. What you need in San Diego is very different from what you need in Eagle Pass, Texas.
The Rio Grande serves as the international boundary for 1,200 miles of the Texas-Mexico border – including more than 800 miles in my district – and the majestic Big Bend National Park runs along more than 100 miles of it. The tallest peak in the park is almost 8,000 feet. Building a wall in the middle of a river or at the top of a mountain would be a waste of taxpayer money.
The Texas-Mexico border is also home to a significant part of the largest desert in North America – the Chihuahuan Desert. Building a barrier through hundreds of miles of desert on the border is useless if you do not have Border Patrol agents available to respond to challenges to the barrier. Furthermore, much of the property along the Texas-Mexico border is privately owned, and seizing land to build a wall is not popular among these landowners.
There are already almost 700 miles of fencing along the 2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, and hundreds of miles are in need of repair because criminal organizations have cut through and dug under it repeatedly. Part of the existing wall along the border in places such as Arizona has been used as the foundation of a ramp upon which drug traffickers have moved heavy equipment.
For every move we make to defend ourselves, our adversaries will make a counter move. True border security demands a flexible, defense-in-depth strategy that includes a mix of personnel, technology and changing tactics, all of which come at a lower price tag than a border wall.
During the campaign, Trump suggested his wall would cost between $8 billion and $12 billion. A further analysis of these proposals by the MIT Technology Review suggests the cost could be as much as $40 billion. To give some perspective on this number, the entire national intelligence program’s (the CIA, National Security Agency, etc.) annual budget is $53 billion.
As a conservative legislator, I believe the U.S. government has a responsibility to use the hard-earned taxpayer dollars entrusted to it wisely. Some of this border wall money should go to increase CIA and NSA operations targeting the criminal organizations operating in Mexico and the rest of Central America. Improved intelligence and closer working relationships with our partners in Mexico could solve the problem before it hits our country.
The president has said that he will ensure that Mexico pays for the construction of a border wall. Mexico is our friend and partner. Our national security depends on working together to ensure the integrity of our southern border.
While chasing terrorists as an undercover officer in the CIA, I learned a few life lessons, such as: Be nice to nice guys and tough with tough guys, and make sure your friends trust you and your enemies fear you. Asking our friends to pay for something that won’t solve our problems is not how to ensure that our children inherit a country less dangerous than ours.
Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican, represents Texas’s 23rd District. He wrote this for The Washington Post.