History Casts Doubt on Potential Effectiveness of Trump’s Border Wall
By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
As the U.S. government shutdown drags on, President Donald Trump has threatened to close the southern border with Mexico and cut off aid to Central America if Congress continues to deny his demand for $5 billion in funding for a proposed border wall extension. The president is set to address the nation today in a prime-time speech at 9.00 p.m. Eastern Time.
As that debate continues, more than 200 migrants have attempted to cross the dangerous 21-mile-wide English Channel since the start of November in order to reach Britain. Home to the world busiest shipping lanes, Britain’s Interior Ministry has said of the Channel crossing that “it was only a matter of time before people lose their lives.” This, and many other examples throughout history, casts doubt upon the effectiveness of any border wall of keeping out desperate migrants fleeing violence and poverty despite the risk of death.
The Berlin Wall
One of the most well-known examples of a border barrier is the Berlin Wall, which divided Germany from 1961 to 1989. The barrier included guard towers that were placed along large concrete walls, and was later accompanied by an area called a “death strip” that contained anti-vehicle trenches and other defenses. During this time period, over 100,000 people attempted to escape from East Germany to West Germany, and over 5,000 people succeeded. The estimated death toll ranged from 136 to more than 200 in and around Berlin.
The Gaza Strip
In 1994, Israel began construction of a border wall along the Gaza Strip, with crossings only possible at five points. After being largely torn down by Palestinians in September 2000, it was rebuilt by June 2001, and a 1 km buffer zone was added. However, thousands of rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip since the Gaza war ended in 2009. In June 2006, Palestinians used a tunnel almost a kilometer long under the barrier to infiltrate into Israel to conduct assassinations. In 2013, three tunnels under this wall were identified, two of which were packed with explosives. Israel has begun work on a concrete tunnel blockade, hoping to complete it by mid-2019.
Hungary’s Electrified Fence
In 2015, anti-immigrant Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban ordered $1 billion worth of electrified fencing equipment with cameras and heat sensors to keep out migrants, according to USA Today. The Prime Minister’s wall is 20 feet high and stretches for 200 miles, intended to block migrants from passing through Hungary on their way to northern Europe from grace. However, it stops abruptly at the border with Romania. That means that any migrants who wish to pass through Hungary anyway just have to walk around the end of the fence. The barrier has dramatically cut down on the amount of migrant traffic through Hungary, but hundreds still enter illegally every month.
Drug Smuggling Tunnels
The dozens of tunnels discovered along the Southwest border between the U.S and Mexico are almost exclusively used for drug smuggling, and are rarely used by migrants because of their secret nature and value to drug cartels. However, it’s an obvious way that drug traffickers have circumvented every iteration of the border fence erected to date. Traffickers are also increasingly relying on drug submarines, small flat-bottomed panga boats, and ultralight aircraft to go around or over border barriers.
Trump’s Border Wall Impact
However, one only has to look at reduced apprehension statistics in areas where border barriers have been erected to realize that they do have an impact on unauthorized pedestrian border crossings. But this only applies in situations where migrants are looking to cross illegally in between ports of entry. The nature of the recent migrant caravan and other mass migration groups indicates that requesting asylum is the current entry method of choice. While many opt to avoid the long wait that goes with requesting asylum at a port of entry and cross illegally in more sparsely populated areas, there is no indication now, or from history, that the border wall president Trump has in mind will deter the most desperate of migrants.
Also by Sylvia Longmire: California Officer’s Shooting Death Puts Sanctuary City Policies Under Scrutiny