WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico faced a barrage of criticism at the the House on Thursday.
“Suffice it to say, a wall’s not going to help, nor will it make us safer from terrorism or organized crime,” said Seth Stoddard, a former assistant secretary of border policy at the Homeland Security Department. “The wall is an extremely bad idea and I hope Congress does not support it.”
Stoddard is one of three border-security experts who testified this morning before the House Subcommittee on National Security.
Each predicted that the wall will be impractical and expensive, though they differed on exactly how bad of an idea Trump’s wall is.
Steven Camarota, the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, argued the wall could come close to paying for itself by cutting down on the number of people entering the country illegally and signing onto government programs once they arrived.
“In effect the wall could pay for itself even if it only kept out only a small fraction of the people expected to come,” Camarota said at the hearing.
Estimates for the cost of the wall — which is slated to be built with U.S. tax dollars, despite Trump’s pledge to have Mexico pay — are many and varied.
Though the Department of Homeland Security put an estimate for the wall at $21.6 billion in February, Senate Democrats calculated a much higher, $70 billion approximation last week. Trump meanwhile was forced to drop his push to have Congress pass a short-term spending measure that would have secured a down payment on the wall before the financing for most government operations expires on April 28.
With few options to achieve a border-length wall, members of Congress seemed receptive at Thursday’s hearing to an alternative suggestion by Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council.
Judd said strategic patches of fence along the border, some of which is already in place but would need to be repaired, allow agents to control where people attempt to cross into the country illegally, reducing the number of agents needed to patrol the border effectively.
“It has to be comprehensive because we can’t just continue to shift the burden to different sectors,” Judd said, adding that drones, sensors and other technological methods “all work.”
Noting that has spoken with Trump multiple times, Judd said the president has been “open to the idea” of strategic fencing.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., noted in an interview that Congress tackled a similar initiative with the bipartisan Secure Fence Act of 2006.
“I think the Secure Fence Act probably got it about right,” DeSantis said. “They had said 700 miles, and it was strategic locations. So I think that’s probably where [Homeland Security] Secretary Kelly is, and I think that’s probably where most members of Congress would be.”
Showing showed why the idea of Trump’s wall has been so enduring, however, the committee also heard testimony from a woman whose son was killed by a undocumented gang member.
“If our borders had been secured, Ronald would still be here,” said Agnes Gibboney, whose son died 15 years ago today.
Gibboney repeated a common refrain from the hearing that thousands of people have been killed by people in the country illegally, but there is little data for that number.
Studies have shown immigrants are not more likely to commit crime than people born in the United States.