Updated 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Trump's Wall: A Wasteful, Foolish Boondoggle

President Donald Trump’s promised wall has already stopped at least one Mexican from entering the U.S.: President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has canceled his planned trip to Washington next week. Trump tweeted on Thursday that if Mexico didn’t want to pay for the wall, then maybe Peña Nieto shouldn’t come. The Mexican president complied.

Such is the state of relations between the U.S. and its southern neighbor, which is also its third-largest trading partner. Building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border has never made much sense -- economically, financially or symbolically. Now its political costs are coming into view.

A Trump spokesman said the meeting will be rescheduled, and Peña Nieto has said he is open to it. It should go without saying that they have far more important issues to discuss than Trump’s plans for a wall along their 2,000-mile border.

Not only would the wall be needlessly expensive -- Trump says it will cost $8 billion, engineers have said at least twice as much -- but there are far better ways to prevent the flow of undocumented immigrants and drugs from Mexico.

Never mind that the number of people trying to sneak into the U.S. through Mexico is dropping to levels last seen in the 1970s, or that most drug smuggling takes place at border crossings. In fact, if Trump wants to secure the border, he should focus on those crossings, which are badly in need of new technology and manpower. This would also break bottlenecks that block legitimate commerce.

To further reduce the illegal population in the U.S., nearly half of whom entered legally, Trump could order the full implementation of the E-verify system to screen legal workers and the long-promised biometric entry-exit system. Both of these would be just a fraction of the real-world cost of a wall.

All this said, Trump promised his supporters a wall, he may feel obligated to deliver. One face-saving idea is stronger and more imposing physical barriers in urban areas, where it’s easier for criminal elements to melt into the landscape. Another (admittedly unlikely) idea is to help Mexico build a better wall along its border -- with Guatemala. That could also have the effect of reducing illegal immigration to the U.S. from Central America.

The mere prospect of the wall is already disrupting relations with a neighbor whose enthusiastic partnership is vital to helping the U.S. grow its economy, achieve energy independence, prevent crime and terrorism, and protect the environment. All of these efforts require cooperation, not confrontation. If Trump continues to insist on making the wall an issue, he will continue to endanger a relationship that has long served both countries well.