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Who’s (really) going to pay for the wall?

A ’great wall’ on the Mexican border was a signature pledge and Trump will have to do something to make good on it
US presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto prepare to deliver a joint press conference in Mexico City on August 31, 2016. Donald Trump was expected in Mexico Wednesday to meet its president, in a move aimed at showing that despite the Republican White House hopeful’s hardline opposition to illegal immigration he is no close-minded xenophobe. Trump stunned the political establishment when he announced late Tuesday that he was making the surprise trip south of the border to meet with President Enrique Pena Nieto, a sharp Trump critic. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto shake hands at a press conference at the Los Pinos residence in Mexico City, August 31, 2016. (Henry Romero/Reuters)
U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto shake hands at a press conference at the Los Pinos residence in Mexico City, August 31, 2016. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

“Mexico!!!!” bellowed the crowd at every Donald Trump campaign rally, after the candidate asked this question. He’d often ask it a few times, a call-and-response that always riled his base. “They don’t know it yet, but they will.”

Of all the promises Trump made throughout his campaign, the “great, great wall” was the most easily memorable—and seemingly most fanciful. “If you don’t like me or trust me as your next-door neighbour, feel free to erect a concrete barrier on your side of the property line. But there’s no way to compel me to pay that.”

“Paying for a wall is out of our vision,” Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu told Mexican TV the day after the election, according to the New York Times. Vicente Fox, the former president, put it more bluntly in February: “I’m not going to pay for that f–king wall.” Trump’s response: “Tell him that the wall just got 10 feet taller.”

The president-elect’s campaign plan from April threatened to cut off the US$25 billion in annual remittances that flow south of the border by amending a provision of the post-9/11 Patriot Act designed to force financial institutions to identify new account applicants. Barack Obama has called it a “half-baked” idea. “The notion that we’re going to track every Western Union bit of money that’s being sent to Mexico, good luck with that,” Obama said.

Trump’s campaign has said his steel-reinforced concrete wall would cost $5 billion to $10 billion. Analysts have forecast it could cost up to $25 billion. Trump’s rhetoric also has seemed to ignore the fact that much of the 3,200-km land boundary between the United States and Mexico is already fenced—most of the rest is natural barriers like mountains and the Rio Grande, which Trump has said won’t need his “beautiful” wall.

It’s possible that like most of the far-fetched promises Trump has made, this Berlin-style behemoth won’t come to be as he’s pitched it. But he’ll likely have to do something to make good on his signature pledge. Even some of his most diehard backers don’t believe his “Mexico will pay” talk. “Obviously, Mexico won’t write us a cheque to build a wall, but with Trump’s tough trade deals, well, hopefully they’ll more than pay for it,” said Fox News host Sean Hannity this month.

This, too, is an odd claim, as Trump has often conflated Mexico paying for the wall with his bid to eliminate the $50-billion annual trade deficit between the countries. Trade benefits directly accrue to businesses.

No matter what, one country or (unlikely) another would directly pay for a wall.