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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Political drama over wall may be more important than wall itself

President Donald Trump listens during an event on

President Donald Trump listens during an event on border security in the Oval Office of the White House on Friday. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Alex Wong

Citizens can be forgiven for wondering if President Donald Trump might find the political drama over a southern border barrier more valuable than getting it all built.

Let's take this from the top. Trump's White House never engaged in earnest or intensive negotiations with Congress on the wall that came close to fruition, even during two years the GOP ruled both houses.

Even loyal former Chief of Staff John Kelly has said building a wall "from sea to shining sea" would be a "waste of money."

One week after taking office Trump told Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto, who said his country won't pay for the wall: "Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important to talk about."

Late last year, Trump didn't even force a shutdown in the stated cause of billions of dollars for wall construction until prodded by right-wing wall advocates in the media and Congress.

Even after a record shutdown, Trump caved in, signed a measure to fund shuttered agencies, and at least put off defeat by declaring a state of "emergency," kicking the issue into a court process in which Congress has sided with the opponents.

If he got the funding today, Trump would still face difficulties.

One-third of the vast acreage needed for this project belongs to the federal government. But the rest is owned by states, tribes and private owners. Most of the land in Texas belongs to private property holders. 

There are legal problems declaring the government's right to seize these properties, especially if Congress and state officials do not unanimously support the goal.

As reported by Reuters from Santa Teresa, New Mexico, last week, there are now 18-foot-tall steel slats extending 20 miles across the dunes and brush of the Chihuahuan desert. The stated price tag was $74 million. Some locals are asking what good it does.

"Most of us here say why spend that money? Just dead money going into the middle of the desert,” said Jerry Pacheco, president and CEO of the Border Industrial Association, a nonprofit representing industries in southern New Mexico. The area wasn't a hub of illicit activity, neighbors told the news agency.

If all the new fencing or barriers that weren't already erected by prior administrations eventually go up, will it halt illegal immigration?

If not, Trump will have put his brand on a very expensive fiasco. Rally chants of "build that wall" might turn out to have been the highlight of the whole experience for him. If the whole venture fails, however, the president can merrily attack everyone who prevented it from rising — into 2020 and after.

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