The Cable

Let’s Review Who, Exactly, Is Paying for the U.S.-Mexico Wall

Trump says Mexico. But Mexico says no. But now Trump wants money from Congress. But he says Mexico will pay the U.S. back. Of course.


There seems to be some confusion as to who is currently expected to pay for the wall that President-elect Donald Trump promised, over the course of his campaign, would be built on the U.S.-Mexico border. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly said Mexico would pay for it. Former Mexican President Vincente Fox, for his part, insisted, “I’m not paying for that fucking wall.”

And now it seems Fox, indeed, may be correct. Mexico might not pay for the wall, because Trump is now going to ask Congress (and, by extension, American taxpayers) to foot the bill.

On Friday morning, Trump clarified his comments in a thoughtful dialogue with the press. No, just kidding. He tweeted, “The dishonest media does not report that any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!”

So, to offer an honest media review of events: Trump originally said Mexico would pay for the wall, and then said that Congress would pay for the wall, and then said that Congress would pay first but would then invoice Mexico for what he is now calling “the Great Wall” (somewhere in China, Xi Jinping shook his head).

So Americans will build it and then Mexicans will pay them back. Sort of like how contractors paid for his work in Atlantic City but he then paid them back. Oh, wait.

Trump first launched from obscurity to national prominence on a harsh immigration platform. In his presidential bid announcement in June 2015, the now-president-elect said Mexico was sending “drugs” and “rapists” over the border (but, of course, adding that some, he assumes, “are good people.”)

Trump has not clarified how he would compel Mexico to foot the bill. Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, made it clear he wouldn’t pay for it during Trump’s high-profile visit to Mexico in September. 

And it’s no wonder neither leader wants to pick up the tab; some estimates put the price tag at $16 million per mile, a hefty sum given the U.S.-Mexico border is 2,000 miles long. If Trump gets his way, though, he has a head start. Under former President George W. Bush, the United States built 670 miles of a wall along the border, but that alone costs nearly $2.4 billion to maintain. A full, 2,000-mile long fence could also cost up to $750 million a year.

That hasn’t deterred Republican lawmakers from backing Trump’s plan. In a Fox News op-ed on Dec. 2, Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, advocated building the wall and putting Mexico on a “payment plan.” (This came after opposing the wall’s construction in 2015, when he said it was an inefficient use of taxpayer money).

Fox, for his part, has not changed his tune, tweeting, “Trump may ask whoever he wants, but still neither myself nor Mexico are going to pay for his racist monument. Another promise he can’t keep.”

Photo credit: YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy@RobbieGramer

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