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Hungary border fence Wang Huijuan/ZumaPress

Why Border Walls Fail

Since the end of World War II, the world has built more than 60 border walls, and politicians in many countries – including the US – are busy planning more. And yet existing border walls are neither cheap nor effective.

HONOLULU – Call this the Year of Border Walls. In 2015, Estonia, Hungary, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia all announced or began the construction of barriers on their frontiers. We may live in an era of globalization, but much of the world is increasingly focused on limiting the free movement of people.

At the end of World War II, there were only five border walls around the world. Today, according to Elisabeth Vallet of the University of Quebec at Montreal, there are 65, three-quarters of them built in the past 20 years. And in the United States, Republican presidential candidates are promising more. The Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, has repeatedly proposed building a wall along the entire border with Mexico. And on a Sunday morning talk show, another Republican candidate, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, described building a wall on the US-Canada border as “a legitimate issue for us to look at.”

And yet existing border walls are neither cheap nor effective. Israel’s wall in the West Bank cost more than $1 million per mile to construct. According to US Customs and Border Protection, building and maintaining the existing 670 miles of border fencing on the US-Mexico border would cost $6.5 billion over the barrier’s expected 20-year life cycle. At this price, fortifying the remaining 1,300 miles of the Mexico border would cost more than $12.6 billion. Erecting a wall along the 5,525-mile border with Canada would cost almost $50 billion and would cut through an airport runway, an opera house, homes, and businesses that currently straddle the border.

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