Don Winslow: Trump’s border wall would be a monument to 'narcissism and willful ignorance'
This is part one in a three-part series of op-eds by Julian-based author Don Winslow. The Union-Tribune is using the publication of his new book, “The Border,” to start a yearlong discussion about immigration and the border. Have something to say? Send 150-word letters to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send op-eds of 700-750 words to email@example.com. We will consider publishing your words, too.
In 220 B.C. Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi ordered the construction of a wall to protect China’s northern border from invasion by barbarians.
That was one reason, anyway. A more cynical interpretation is Qin had it built to enhance his prestige as the tenuous emperor of a newly united China and to control commerce along the border.
The wall was expensive, both in blood and treasure. Somewhere between 400,000 and 1 million workers died building it, and while estimates vary, most come in at around $360 billion in current dollars.
Author Don Winslow on U.S.-Mexico ties
The Great Wall of China took almost 2,000 years to complete, eventually stretched to some 13,170 miles, and included watchtowers and garrisons. Its average height is about 23 feet.
By any measure, it’s a Great Wall.
President Donald Trump certainly thinks so: “Well, 3,000 years ago, the Great Wall of China was built. We would like to have that wall. That wall, nobody gets through. That I can tell you.”
You can tell us that, Mr. Trump, but it’s not true.
If the purpose of a wall is to keep people out, the Great Wall of China should be rechristened the Lousy Wall of China.
It never stopped anyone. The Mongols rode around it and the Manchus just went through its gates.
The gates were open for the purposes of trade.
Now we have wannabe emperor Trump’s new wall, which would stand as a monument to his narcissism and willful ignorance. He claims his wall will block “illegal immigration” but he must know that immigration from the southern border is at an all-time low, and that the mostly Central American asylum seekers in the recent caravans are often presenting themselves at the legal Ports of Entry — that is, the gates.
His rationale that the proposed wall would solve our drug problem is simply cruel. Trump has told grieving parents who have lost children to heroin overdoses that his wall will stop the flow of drugs into the country. It won’t, and the reason is obvious. The Trump Wall will have gates.
Our border with Mexico currently has 52 Ports of Entry (POEs), the largest and busiest being San Diego, Laredo and El Paso. The main POE in San Diego, San Ysidro, is the busiest land border crossing in the world, with more than 50,000 vehicles coming across every day. Nobody — not Trump, not anyone — is going to close those gates.
According to Fortune Magazine, our total trade with Mexico in 2017 was worth $586 billion — $314 billion in imports.
Most of those legal imports come in tractor trailer trucks. More illicit drugs come in on just those tractor-trailer trucks than by every other method of trafficking combined.
This isn’t just me saying this, it comes from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In its 2015 report, the agency stated, “Mexican TCOs [Transnational Criminal Organizations] transport the bulk of their drugs over the Southwest Border [sic] through ports of entry (POEs) using passenger vehicles or tractor trailers. The drugs are typically secreted in hidden compartments when transported in passenger vehicles or comingled with legitimate goods when transported in tractor trailers.”
DEA’s Threat Assessment Report for 2016 says that 95 percent of illegal drugs coming from Mexico enter the U.S. in vehicles through those legal POEs. Its 2018 report states “a small percentage of all heroin seized by CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] along the land border was between Ports of Entry.”
DEA has estimated that it only interdicts between 5 percent to 10 percent of the drugs coming through in trucks, cars or on foot through those open gates. Given the numbers, that’s not a bad effort, but it also means that at least 90 percent of the 95 percent of drugs crossing the border get through.
Through the gates.
During the trial of former Sinaloa Cartel partner Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, witness after witness — all major drug traffickers — testified that the POEs are their major route for smuggling cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin into the United States.
The simple fact is that no reasonable person can look at the data and think that a wall with 52 gates open 24/7 is going to do a thing to stop or even slow the flow of drugs.
That means Trump hasn’t looked at the data and doesn’t know. Or he does know, and doesn’t care. But Trump must know that the answers he gave to parents grieving the overdose deaths of their children were cheap, despicable lies.
Maybe you could chalk it up to a harmless campaign promise, but the problem is that it’s not harmless. Proposing a false, frivolous solution to a problem that killed over 63,000 Americans in 2016 (National Center for Health Statistics) is harmful.
It prevents real solutions that might save lives.
Call it the Emperor’s New Wall.
Read part two here: Why Trump’s border wall would make a bad situation worse
Read part three here: Think of it this way. Mexico has a U.S. drug problem.
Winslow is the internationally bestselling author of “The Force,” “The Power of the Dog” and “The Cartel.” His most recent book is the conclusion of his trilogy on the drug war. He lives in San Diego County.