Mexico now knows the size of the bill they’ll be receiving from the Trump administration for the border wall the president has promised to build -- and it’s a lot bigger than expected. A report completed by the Department of Homeland Security and leaked to the Reuters news agency on Thursday, pegs the cost of extending the existing barrier along the southern border at $21.6 billion, almost double the $12 billion figure that Trump floated during his presidential campaign.
The project would be completed in phases and would take some three and a half years, meaning that unless the project is started almost immediately, it would likely remain incomplete by the end of Trump’s first term in office.
In remarks to law enforcement officials in Washington on Wednesday, Trump reported that the wall was being designed “right now.”
However, this week, DHS Secretary John Kelly told Congress that isn’t likely to happen, testifying only that construction would be “well under way” within two years. Kelly did restate the administration’s commitment to completing it, though, calling the border with Mexico a “gaping wound” in national security.
The wall, as a key element of Trump’s campaign for the Oval Office, has become a symbol of his effort to crack down on illegal immigration, and despite the cost and logistical difficulty of erecting it, is not something the president can afford to back away from.
He also cannot retreat on his repeated insistence that Mexico will pay for the construction, a promise that was largely viewed as a fantasy even before the cost of the construction was revealed to be far higher than Trump originally claimed.
The fuss over payment for the wall has already led to one of several foreign policy missteps by the new administration, with a planned visit from the Mexican president being scrapped after Trump found himself in a Twitter-based war of words with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
In an odd aside, prior to Trump’s decision to go after Pena Nieto on Twitter, the president had delivered a speech about Mexico that many saw as conciliatory. He said, “a strong and healthy economy in Mexico is very good for the United States — very, very good...I truly believe we can enhance the relation between our two nations to a degree not seen before, certainly in a very, very long time.”
According to The Washington Post, the language in Trump’s speech was tempered by his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, with an assist from Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, who was in the White House prior to its delivery.
In a television appearance later that day, though, Pena Nieto restated his refusal to pay for the wall, leading Trump to suggest that the Mexican president should cancel his upcoming visit, which Pena Nieto promptly did.