Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) recently introduced the Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order Act, also known as the “El Chapo Act,” to fund President Trump’s proposed border wall. The media reports that Cruz’s bill is similar to one introduced by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) in February. Cruz’s bill would apportion some money seized from drug lords like El Chapo to the construction of a border wall.
There are several problems with this idea.
First, cash seizures cannot pay for the border wall. The inspector general at the Department of Justice found that the DEA, ATF, and FBI only seized assets and cash worth $5.36 billion from 2007 through 2016. A raid in Mexico in 2007 yielded $205 million in seized cash. The agencies spent those funds, gave them to local or state law enforcement, or returned some of them to victims. As my colleague David Bier and I wrote, building and maintaining a border wall over the next decade will cost about $44 to $99 billion. If 100 percent of the seized funds from 2007 to 2016 went toward border wall construction, then 126 to 310 miles of it would have been built by now along the roughly 2000 mile long border. That amounts to an average of 14 to 35 miles a year.
Even if the federal government seized all $14 billion from El Chapo (it won’t), that would at most cover a third of the decade-long cost of the border wall and likely no more than a seventh.
Second, just because money seized from Mexican drug dealers is funneled to paying for the wall doesn’t mean that Mexico would be paying for the wall. That money was going to be seized anyway by the federal government and mainly spent by U.S. law enforcement agencies. By redirecting the flow toward the construction of a border wall, this bill will make those U.S. law enforcement agencies pay for it in foregone revenue. A redirection of revenue that was already coming in cannot be a new stream of revenue to pay for a border wall. At best, it is an accounting trick to make it look like Mexico is paying for the wall. I am not endorsing the government’s seizure of drug money, the War on Drugs, or even the current budgets of other U.S. law enforcement agencies – I am merely pointing out that other U.S. agencies will be foregoing these funds. I doubt that Congress or the Trump administration will let their revenues shrink, so taxpayers will likely plug any spending gap caused by the redirection of funds toward a border wall.
Third, much of the disagreement over the cost of the border wall concerns the cost of eminent domain. Most of the land that the government will need to seize through eminent domain to build the border wall is in Texas where most of the land along the border is privately owned – which is one reason why 61 percent of Texas adults oppose the border wall.
Fourth, the stock of illegal immigrants is at its lowest point in a decade and annual cross-border apprehensions are at or near a 17-year low. Even if a border wall was a cheap and effective way to stop illegal immigration, the sustained collapse in cross-border apprehensions makes it a silly expenditure. It’s like a perfectly healthy person putting their formerly broken-but-now-healed arm in a cast 9 years after the injury healed.
In essence, Cruz’s bill would redirect seized drug money in order to fund further seizures of private property along the border and to pay for an expensive wall that is unnecessary.