During Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, he spoke passionately and prominently about building a massive border wall spanning the entire U.S. and Mexico border. He painted a dire picture of drugs and crime coming in from Mexico, and promised that the new wall would all but eliminate drug trafficking from Mexico.  Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is not that simple, and a border wall would not very likely be an efficient or complete solution.

Federal reports derived from Border Patrol debriefs indicate that the vast majority of drug trafficking from Mexico comes through legal ports of entry and official crossings, rather than from illegal border crossings out in the desert, as Donald Trump’s stance would indicate. In reality, most of the drugs are coming in on commercial trucks, passenger vehicles, boats and even inside of human bodies. Unfortunately, Border Patrol also has a bad reputation for accepting bribes from Mexican cartels to help sneak shipments through inspection sites.

A Complex Issue

For one thing, since 2007, the vast majority of illegal immigration takes the form of Mexican immigrants entering the country legally and then overstaying their visas. This happens far more than immigrants crossing the border illegally. A border wall is going to do nothing to solve the problem of legal immigrants overstaying their visas.

The Drug Enforcement Agency’s 2017 National Threat Assessment affirms that Mexican drug cartels are the greatest criminal threat that America has. The report states that “The most common method employed by these TCOs involves transporting illicit drugs through U.S. ports of entry (POEs) in passenger vehicles with concealed compartments or commingled with legitimate goods on tractor trailers.” 

Mexican drug cartels have some other creative ways to get drugs over the border. They use drones, catapults, and cannons, and sometimes just send it through the mail. Obviously, a wall isn’t going to do anything to help. Most of the ways that drug trafficking occurs would not be deterred in any way by the construction of a wall.

Bribery is a constant issue and source of subversion as well. The size of the Border Patrol has increased by over 400% over the past 25 years, and there are a fair percentage of agents that are corrupt. While it’s difficult to estimate exactly how big this problem is, reports show that the rates of bribery are increasing, and more illegal immigrants and drugs are crossing the border as a result.

Another issue is that drug cartels are helping immigrants cross the border, but only if they take a backpack full of drugs with them. These immigrants get the help of a cartel that controls a certain territory on the border, but they take on a considerable amount of risks because they are now not just illegal immigrants, but drug smugglers as well.

Clearly, this is a complicated and multifaceted issue. It is far more complex than the image that Donald Trump has painted. Illegal immigrants running through the desert and crossing rivers trying to bring drugs into the country is only one minor way that trafficking is actually happening. Methods that don’t rely on illegal border crossings are far more prevalent. A wall will not help.

Finding Solutions

Even though a massive border wall might not be the solution to our drug trafficking issue, there are measures we can take that are effective and inexpensive. According to Border Control consultant who was a former smuggler:

  • “If we don’t have marijuana, they’re using cocaine. They’re going to start doing something that they can get high on.  As long as the people here in the United States buy the drugs, it’s not going to stop.”

This statement affirms that as long as America has the demand, Mexico will provide the supply. The true key to dramatically reducing the supply of drugs being trafficked by Mexico is to dramatically reduce the demand for these drugs in America. This comes down to a function of prevention and rehabilitation.

Also important is for America to improve diplomatic relations with Mexico and work with the Mexican government to address this issue. In 2005, only 20% of America’s heroin came from Mexico. Now, 90% of America’s heroin comes from Mexico. Mexico is eager to end the trafficking problem as well. We can be far more effective working together.

In regards to the wall, one expert believes it might help a little but is nowhere near cost effective. He said:

“Yes, you build the wall, you reduce the numbers.  It’s not exactly the most efficient use of resources when it could have been invested in immigration reform or drug demand reduction or investing in Central America and Mexican economic and security development.”

This is a complex problem that will not be solved by building a wall. The wall is more effective as a symbol than it would be as an actual solution.