A “Border Wall” Trump, Pelosi, and Mexico’s President All Could Love
Imagine US President Donald Trump sitting at his Oval Office desk, flanked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Andres Lopez Obrador, the President of Mexico, overlooking President Trump signing into law a bill to create a true border wall, and also providing that Mexico will pay its fair share of the wall.
Crazy, nonsensical fiction? Actually, a real possibility. Below I present a scenario wherein this Oval Office scene REALLY could occur. It would be the truth, just not quite the truth everyone is walking around with presently in their heads. But it could be a desirable reality, if only we can re-frame a difficult, complex issue. Let me show you how.
US President Donald Trump loves things to be big and bold. Even better is if the big and bold idea has his name on it. The idea of building a giant border wall between the USA and Mexico fits the bill perfectly, and the President has been doggedly pursuing it ever since he started running for President.
His even bigger idea has been to get the government of Mexico to pay for it.
Many of the rest of us have been equally dogged in our opposition.
So how do we get from the present reality to that hypothetical Oval Office scene?
If it can be done, it won’t be a classic “win/win” negotiation, something Trump doesn’t seem to like. Instead, it will actually be a “win/win/win”.
So what would that “win/win/win” strategy be? Build a fiber optic “wall”.
I’m not claiming this is a new idea, as others have proposed something similar. What I’m proposing is a “re-framing” of this in such a way that others might want to sign on. More about that below, but first, let’s look more closely at the idea.
Mexico and the USA share a land border that stretches 1,954 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Prior to 1990 the border had little or no fencing. Beginning that year, fencing was put up in the San Diego sector of the border. The Secure Border Fence Act of 2006 called for the construction of about 700 miles of fencing. As of 2016, that fence construction was basically complete. What Trump and many conservatives want to do is reinforce the existing physical walls, which are principally located in urban areas such as San Diego, CA and El Paso, TX and “fill in” the remaining 1,200 miles with a “big beautiful wall”: 1,954 miles of big, beautiful wall to be exact.
The idea of that “big beautiful wall”, especially in desert and mountain areas, is opposed by a broad range of people, including me, for a lot of different reasons: excessive cost; likely ineffectiveness at preventing illegal crossings and drug smuggling; causing disastrous impacts to wildlife and the environment; and because it would be an ugly symbol not in keeping with the character of our country. Contrary to what many supporters of the physical wall claim, the majority of America opposes the “big, beautiful wall” not because we want an open border, and don’t care about border security, it’s just we don’t think the “big, beautiful wall” is the way to get the job done.
Instead of an old fashioned wall, how about a high tech wall, in the form of a fiber optic cable? Companies such as Optasense and Sensuron have developed technology that turns an ordinary fiber optic cable into a motion detection device. It’s been deployed in a range of industries. As an example, fiber optics is now used for leak detection on pipelines. Fiber optic cables can detect the motion of objects crossing over the cable. Not only that, additional technology can discriminate between vehicles, animals, and people crossing. The thinking goes as follows: why not put a fiber optic cable along the border, then rely upon existing systems to act when there is evidence that vehicles or people have crossed? The Border Patrol already has lots of resources in place to act when there is evidence of such movement? Because humans who cross the fiber optic “wall” will be immediately identified, then likely picked up by the Border Patrol using tried and tested methods, the “wall” will accomplish the desired objective of controlling illegal entry, just like the “big beautiful wall”. It will have some very attractive additional benefits that the “big beautiful wall” won’t: much lower cost; far fewer environmental impacts; and no ugly symbol of exclusion. The most compelling argument for this is that the cost savings of the fiber optic cable could be applied to hiring more Border Patrol personnel and systems.
The fiber optic cable idea is supported by a range of different people. Perhaps the most interesting supporter is Congressman Will Hurd of Texas. Hurd has “a dog in the fight”, as his Congressional district is right on the border — about 700 miles of it. Not only that, Hurd is a Republican.
So there’s support for the idea, but why do I think Mexico might want to pay for at least part of it? The answer is because Mexico could gain economic benefits from the fiber optic cable.
Fiber optic cables have revolutionized communications. They help power the Internet, but also mobile telephony. The great thing about a fiber optic “wall” is that while the “wall” cable is being used to track illegal crossings of the border, it could also be used to help provide high speed Internet and telephony along the border. The rural portions on both sides of the border lack good Internet and telephony.
Mexico would probably be interested in helping to pay for the fiber optic wall for these reasons. The other reason is because such a cable could also benefit maquiladora plants along the border. Maquiladoras are plants that manufacture or assemble a broad range of products, providing a great deal of employment. Based upon the free trade agreement in place between the USA, Mexico and Canada, these maquiladora plants generate considerable economic output. The addition of the fiber optic wall could help those plants. The other thing the fiber optic “wall” cable could do would be to encourage higher tech facilities to locate along the border. That could benefit both countries.
Given the comparatively lower cost of building a fiber optic “wall”, along with the potential economic benefits, Mexico could very well be persuaded to sign on. As such, President Trump could legitimately claim he’d accomplished his goal. Given the potential benefits, Mexico would likely be happy to help out.
Every party to this giant controversy could win. The advantage to Trump is that he could claim not one, not two, but three campaign promises filled: 1) a “wall” from sea to sea; 2) Mexico paying at least part of it, and doing the latter willingly; and 3) economic development for a part of rural America. When you think about it, most of the US/Mexico border is classic “flyover” territory. It needs economic development, and this could help.
Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats could claim a victory because they wouldn’t be seeing a giant ugly wall. Not only that, part of the savings from building the fiber optic “wall” might go to other programs of interest to Democrats.
Mexico could claim a victory because it wouldn’t have to see the “big, beautiful wall”, and the fiber optic “wall” could provide very beneficial economic development, as mentioned earlier.
So if this is such a good idea, why doesn’t everyone jump aboard?
Up to now, it’s because the entire issue has been framed as a “false choice”: either you support the idea of a “big beautiful wall” or you want open borders. This “false choice” has led us to a standoff. The best way to overcome the standoff is to re-frame the issue.
Instead of thinking in term of the “false choice”, think of it as “border security plus economic development”. The question then becomes, is there a way simultaneously to improve border security and economic development, as well as avoid some of the perceived drawbacks of the “big beautiful wall”?
The answer, in the form of a fiber optic “wall” is “YES!”
This idea is big and bold. The only thing missing that might really make this appealing to Donald Trump is that there won’t be anything you can see with his name on it. There is one more piece to this idea that will solve that problem.
There’s an ongoing need to improve the technology of border security, the fiber optic “wall” being just a starting point. A good strategy for spurring technology development is to create something like the X Prize. Why not create an X Prize equivalent for border security technology?
As I’ve written before, the original X Prize was created to spur the development of a reusable rocket that could be launched into space at least twice within a two week period. When the $ 10 million prize was first dreamed up, the idea of such a reusable rocket was a pure pipe dream. Funny thing is, researchers often get highly motivated when there’s a chance to earn $ 10 million. The question is, how many researchers out there who might be highly motivated to develop technology to make the fiber optic “wall” even more effective? Why not try? I think I know a certain national leader who would love to have his name on such a prize. As part of building the fiber optic “wall”, why not create the Donald J. Trump Prize for innovation in border sensing technology?
Sounds crazy, but why not? The goal is to spur the development of high tech solutions to major problems. X Prize competitions can be highly effective. Not only that, such prizes can be given out repeatedly.
Building a fiber optic “wall” rather than a physical wall along the 1,954 miles of the US/Mexico border could provide a big, bold, and beautiful solution both to border security and economic development; and it really could lead to the Oval Office scene I envisioned above, with Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, and Mexican President Andres Lopez Obrador all smiling. It could provide a way to resolve the present impasse.
It could be done, if only we’re willing to rethink another “false choice” we’ve created, and re-frame the problem in a new and creative way.