One of the defining narratives of Trump’s presidential campaign was the “big, beautiful wall” he promised to build along the U.S. – Mexico border.
It’s not yet clear how Trump plans to pay for the 30ft wall that is expected to cost north of $20 billion – and to be easy on the eye for those looking from the north. A further complication is the border city of Laredo.
Although there’s a line on the map where the U.S. ends and Mexico begins, the reality in Laredo is blurred. In fact, Laredo (Texas) and Nuevo Laredo (Mexico) are so close geographically they’re practically kissing – as the name Nuevo (new) Laredo suggests, they’re bound as one.
According to the City of Laredo, more than 6,000 people cross the pedestrian bridge into Mexico every day. You can double that number for the amount of car vehicles that use the crossing daily, many of which brings goods from the U.S. to its 3rd largest trading partners.
A huge percentage of the Laredo population have latino or hispanic heritage, and the barrier between the two cities in different countries has been porous for a long time. Thus residents of Laredo are understandably concerned about Trump’s plans to stick a monster-wall between the two cities that are so close they share a name.
How will the wall affect the free movement of thousands of people who work in the U.S. but live in Mexico? People who cross one of the city’s four international bridges on a daily basis. And what will become of NAFTA, the free trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. which has allowed border towns like Laredo to thrive?
“Along the entire border with Mexico, there is anxiety and fear as to how these things are going to play out,” Pete Saenz, Laredo’s mayor told Vice.
Pete Saenz, who voted for Trump and greeted the now-president when he visited Laredo in 2015, has a wholly different take on immigration and the border wall.
“We do over $200 billion worth of trade there at a border. Just out port alone, you know we’re second in post value behind Lose Angeles. We’re third in the entire nation. And obviously, that is the result of a good-neighbor policy that we have with Mexico – and other countries as well,” Saenz told NPR.
His alternative? A virtual wall. A 2017 wall, if you will. “What we need is a virtual wall, frankly. You know, technology is so advanced nowadays,” Saenz said. More border guards, more use of intelligence technology, and the removal of invasive plant species that grow near to the border, and are used to conceal those crossing illegally.
It seems that the majority of Laredo’s residents agree with him. Although that’s not surprising when you consider that Hillary Clinton won 75 per cent of the votes in Webb County, where Laredo is situated, during November’s vote. That’s not to say that Trump hasn’t got his wall-supporters in the border town. Sofia Solis, a Laredo resident, regularly sees people swimming across the border. “It’s safer for them, and it’s safer for us,” she said of the proposed wall. “You never know who is bad and who is good.”
Laredo’s movement of people and cash aside, the wall will be a significant ball-ache to Trump for a variety of reasons. His insistence that Mexico will pay for the wall has been repeatedly rejected by the Mexican government. Whether you believe Trump’s modest $12 billion fee, or the internal report prepared for Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly which put the price at $21 billion – it’s a crazy sum to ask of congress, and American taxpayers.
Beyond cash, there’s the winding Rio Grande providing a significant geographical challenge to any wall. Roughly half of the 2,000 mile border is in Texas and most of the land is privately owned – and buying their land will be far from easy, or cheap.
While many Laredo residents acknowledge the illegal immigration flow needs to be discussed, the bitterness at which Trump has addressed the situation is far from helpful.
“A lot of us here see it day to day, there’s an illegal influx of people coming from Mexico and that needs to be addressed. However, the tone and the rhetoric coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth has been counterproductive.” Melendez, a student and former marine who lives in Laredo, said.
The wall is impractical on many levels and is likely to cause Trump the biggest headache of his entire presidency. Well, unless you call Twitter feuds with Snoop Dogg a headache, or his refusal to give up on a majority-Muslim travel ban.
As the key message from his entire campaign, Trump is surely unable to back away from his wall pledge. However, the costs, legal issues and affects on free movement and trade are tricky landmines to sidestep.