Watch CBS News

On The Issues: Building A Wall Along The Mexican Border

BOSTON (CBS) - It has become Donald Trump's signature issue: his vow to wall off the Mexican border, and make Mexico foot the bill, which some estimates put around $25 billion. But where do the other presidential candidates stand, and is it realistic?

"[It's] more of a slogan than a policy idea," according to Jessica Vaughan of the D.C.-based Center for Immigration studies. "He's right that we need to do a better job of border security, but his idea is presented in a very cartoonish way, without nuance.

"You can't fence the entire border," she added. "The fence is very effective where it can be patrolled, but in other areas it's a complete waste of money."

Trump isn't the only candidate making immigration a central issue in the race. In a recent GOP debate, Ted Cruz lashed out at Marco Rubio, after Rubio questioned the integrity of Cruz's Trump-like campaign stance on immigration.

"For Marco to suggest our record's the same is like suggesting the fireman and the arsonist are alike because they are both at the scene of the fire," he said.

Vaughan has little use for Rubio's relatively moderate immigration record.

"It was interesting that Rubio tried to call Ted Cruz a flip-flopper, when in fact Rubio has been running from his very clear record in favor of comprehensive immigration reform," she said.

Working class anger over illegal immigrant labor undermining wage growth is valid, Vaughan said, but she balks at some of Donald Trump's rhetoric.

"They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists, and some I assume are good people," Trump famously said during this campaign.

"The reality is that immigrants, even illegal immigrants, are no more likely to commit crimes than anybody else," said Vaughn.

"Watch how this plays with Hispanic voters," said WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Joe Mathieu. They make up about 16% of eligible voters. "The first real test will be Nevada, one of the early voting states next month."

On the Democratic side, Vaughn said Bernie Sanders' record in Vermont suggest he might be to Hillary Clinton's right on immigration.

"Bernie Sanders has in the past had some strong and principled disagreements with these policies, particularly on increasing guest worker programs," she pointed out.

Sanders flatly opposes a Trump-style border wall, while Clinton acknowledges voting for a "fence" in the Senate, even as she dismisses Trump's plan. Among other leading Republicans, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie oppose the wall concept, while Cruz, Rubio and John Kasich support it.

Keller Wall Or No Wall
(WBZ-TV graphic)


Bernie Sanders

"A 21st century border must use resources efficiently and effectively. Appropriations must be re-directed away from boondoggle walls to high grade cameras, thermal imaging, movement sensors and other technologies.

"The militarization of the border has reached new heights. Senator Sanders will work to ensure that we have a modern, secure, efficient border, avoiding the militarization of our border communities.

"Establishing an immigration policy that stops the criminalization of communities of color and keeps families together will be a top priority of my Administration."

Complete Immigration Plan

Hillary Clinton

"I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in," Clinton said at a November town hall event in New Hampshire. "We need to secure our borders. I'm for it, I voted for it, I believe in it, and we also need to deal with the families, the workers who are here, who have made contributions, and their children."

From her campaign site: "Hillary will enact comprehensive immigration reform to create a pathway to citizenship, keep families together, and enable millions of workers to come out of the shadows".

Complete Immigration Plan

Jeb Bush

"A great nation must secure its borders for national security and public health reasons. We don't have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on fencing when we can use new technology, improve the Border Patrol's access to streams and rivers on the border, beef up our patrols and adopt sensible policies like e-Verify at workplaces across the country."

Complete Immigration Plan

Chris Christie

Calls for securing the border with Mexico through, "A border wall where appropriate, specifically in urbanized areas; An increase in manpower, specifically embedding FBI, DEA and ATF agents with our border patrol to interdict guns and drugs being smuggled into the country; Advanced technology such as the use of drones and electronic surveillance to increase efficiency."

Complete Immigration Plan

Ted Cruz

"I will fulfill the promise Congress made to the American people almost 10 years ago by completing all 700 miles of priority fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, and dedicate the resources necessary to replace all single-layer fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border to build a fence that keeps people out and that is technology-supported and law enforcement-accessible. If other nations, such as Israel, can build an effective border wall, the United States certainly can."

Complete Immigration Plan

John Kasich

"Finish the wall. And make it clear. Anybody that comes over that wall once we have done it, you're going back," Kasich said on CBS's Face The Nation in August, 2015. "Then the 12 million that are here, legalize them, but make sure we don't have anybody -- any of the criminal element here and have a guest-worker program."

Marco Rubio

During the Republican debate in September, Rubio said, "we must secure our border, the physical border, with a wall, absolutely."

His Immigration plan promises to, "Finish all 700 miles of walls on our southern border. Hire 20,000 new Border Patrol agents. Install $4 billion in new cameras and sensors on the border."

Complete Immigration Plan

Donald Trump

"A nation without borders is not a nation. There must be a wall across the southern border," Trump's immigration policy reads. "The cost of building a permanent border wall pales mightily in comparison to what American taxpayers spend every single year on dealing with the fallout of illegal immigration on their communities, schools and unemployment offices."

"Mexico must pay for the wall and, until they do, the United States will, among other things: impound all remittance payments derived from illegal wages; increase fees on all temporary visas issued to Mexican CEOs and diplomats (and if necessary cancel them); increase fees on all border crossing cards – of which we issue about 1 million to Mexican nationals each year (a major source of visa overstays); increase fees on all NAFTA worker visas from Mexico (another major source of overstays); and increase fees at ports of entry to the United States from Mexico [Tariffs and foreign aid cuts are also options]."

Complete Immigration Plan


No doubt, Trump struck short-term political gold when he identified antagonism toward lax border enforcement and fear of illegal-immigrant crime as third-rail issues for a significant slice of the electorate. And his success in exploiting them speaks to a competitive edge he has as a political outsider with no track record in office. Elected officials like Cruz, Rubio, Clinton and Sanders have had to wrestle with the complexities of the issues involved and the cross-currents within their own constituencies, while Trump can lob bumper-sticker solutions into the fray like so many grenades.

This isn't the script Republicans had in mind for this race. In fact, you'll recall that after a disastrous showing among Latino voters in 2012, they made a point of trying to find middle ground on immigration. And the truth is, the next president will also have to find that middle ground, while dealing with the fact that the extremes usually have little use for the middle.

But Joe Mathieu makes a great point – the campaign will quickly move into states with large numbers of Latino voters and with industries that rely heavily on undocumented immigrant labor. A more nuanced approach to immigration issues – or, at least, one that's not quite so antagonistic – could play better there.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.