The Wrong Side of Trump’s Wall



Donald Trump, ran his campaign on a promise to build ‘a great, great wall’ [1] along the US-Mexico border. Immigration, drug trafficking and unemployment are major issues among both American and Mexican citizens keeping President Trump’s promise firmly in the limelight. As an engineer in a construction company, what actions should we take in relation to this contract, considering the ethical implications of our actions?

For Building Trump’s Wall

Economic benefits

Since the recession in 2008, the United States economy has not fully recovered and the rate of unemployment is estimated to be as high as 15% in parts of the country. This is linked to decades of concern about immigrants pushing local wages down, and diverting US money to their families in Mexico.  As mentioned in the Time Magazine, the wall project will bring up to 25,000 jobs during its construction phase. Furthermore, according to CareerRide, the U.S. economy is in no position to receive more illegal immigrants, as the existing illegal workforce receive approximately $25,000 per household, from government benefits and through welfare. A border wall will return to American tax-payers the economic opportunities they truly deserve. Furthermore, the economic benefits will stretch to the other side of the border for Mexican companies participating in activities such as clearing roads and supplying materials.

Safety & Security

According to the Mexican government, 13,000 people were killed in 2011 as a result of drug violence. The wall could go some way to dismantling the drug trade if policed effectively and it has been argued [7] that its construction will boost the feeling of security amongst Americans. The above arguments, when applied to the utilitarian ethical framework, point out that the economic and social benefits are significant, outweighing any potentially negative side effects of the border wall construction.

The current 700-mile wall built in 2006 encompassed many urban areas  including Tijuana, El Paso and Nogales. This diverted people towards taking the more dangerous routes of the open deserts or mountainous terrain, which has ultimately led to an increase in deaths. The new wall is estimated to be between 30-50ft tall making it nearly impenetrable, The proposal would ultimately aid public safety as it would deter migrants from both making a dangerous journey in the first place as well as from climbing the wall.  So from a virtue ethics perspective, using the engineer’s codes of ethics,  building the wall would “Prevent avoidable danger to health or safety” and is, therefore, an ethical act.

Beyond our skills
The engineering council states that engineers should “undertake only professional tasks for which they are competent, and disclose relevant limitations of competence.” It is beyond the competence of an engineer to make judgements on the social and political consequences of the wall. And should consult either the HR department or their professional governing body to voice their concerns. Which again agrees with a virtue ethics perspective.

Against Building Trump’s Wall



The U.S. Mexico border spans roughly 3,100km. To build a wall along this border would be an expensive and huge engineering feat, but should it be done? These 3,100km are home to plateaus, mountains, valleys, rivers, and an array of plants and animals. A number of environmental issues must be considered as a wall could have a huge impact. The California border is home to 18 federally protected species along with 39 federally endangered, threatened, or candidate species [11] along the Arizona border. A wall could restrict breeding of these species pushing them towards extinction. Is building a wall worth the potential loss of species?

The path of the border includes dry lands which require runoff routes to avoid flooding and preserve the natural environment. This exponentially increases complexity and therefore cost. Another environmental factor is the effect on climate change. “The production of cement, the material that holds together concrete, is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions”. [12] Building a wall of this scale to cover the US Mexico border is no small task and the amount of cement needed and therefore the release of greenhouse gases could be damaging.

Utilizing Kant’s universality principle, we examine whether “Engineers will design and build structures knowing the construction could have costly impacts on the environment” can be universalized. If all engineers were to ignore the environmental impacts of their work, species and animals could become extinct and human lives could be put at risk. Because “Engineers are required to protect public health, safety and welfare as an ethical priority [13] in their work”, building this wall would be unethical.

Upholding Relationships

In February, this year only 35% [14] of U.S. voters supported Trump’s plans to build a wall. As engineers, we have a relationship with and a duty to these people in addition to the Mexican citizens who broadly oppose the plans. Care ethics asserts that there is a moral value in our relationships and that we should weigh these values in our decisions.  Citizens of both nations place their trust in engineers demanding that they serve their visions of a just society. We must uphold this relationship of trust.

Of greater importance, however is our relationships with the vulnerable people who will be further marginalised by the wall and who lack a voice in our society. There are approximately 250,000 [15] illegal workers in U.S. agriculture industry. Mexicans form the backbone of this largely Southern industry by filling low wage jobs in the hope of a better life. Driving a physical barrier through these farms will strangle the free movement of this workforce harming the prospects of the both the workers and the farm owners and again betraying their trust.

Group 12: Andreas Georgakarakos, Carlos, Kelsey Doland, Andrew


12 thoughts on “The Wrong Side of Trump’s Wall

  1. An insightful analysis and despite disagreeing with construction of trumps wall, I appreciate the breakdown of pros and cons. I personally never thought of the effects on local wildlife that the wall would effect.


  2. Where as I agree, it is in the rights of any country to control and defend its own borders, I feel there are less oppressive ways to deal with the arguments for building the fence.

    For example, would the 13,000 Mexican lives lost in 2011 due to drug violence still have happened if there was no market for narcotics in the USA? Surely US Government controlled production and prescription of controlled drugs would drastically reduce the demand for illegal imports?

    An added benefit is the increase of employment in the production of narcotics in the US, and the taxable income from prescriptions, which in turn could go into helping addicts rehabilitate, or boost the economy in Mexico which the illegal immigrants are so desperate to get away from?


  3. Trump promised Mexico would pay for the wall, but the only ones who will pay for it is Americans, making tax cuts on other more pressing stuff. Mr. Trump, tear down this wall!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A nice breakdown of some factors.

    As regards the economic benefits of the wall, one should consider that there are also costs involved. Just some examples:
    1. The costs of the wall itself, $ 285 billion in one estimate.
    2. Then the costs of layers to compensate all the landowners of such huge enterprise.
    3. Costs of forensic auditors to pay the wall through the remittances to Mexico (i.e. making Mexico pay in this way).
    4. If remittances are used to pay for it, there are serious risks of pressuring down the Mexican economy thus giving rise to renewed pushes for smuggling and immigration (tunnels under the border are already active).
    5. A tax on imports from Mexico to finance this would be even worse because it would pass costs into US consumers (and would risk retaliation and boycotts).

    The security argument is also skewered. If Mexico were to stop co-operating with the US because of increased economic nationalism on both sides, the US could actually end up much worse. Think Mexico does not share anymore counter-terrorism intelligence with his northern neighbor. Moreover, a weakened Mexican economy would exacerbate the strength of violent criminal groups all the detriment of both countries. What about the renegotiation of water sharing agreements like those regarding the Colorado river? Finally, it seem rather simplistic, but this would in time create just another Mediterranean with people attempting to use boats to enter the richer country.

    It’s easy to say that it is the right of every country to control its own borders. Yet, doing this without actually studying what an such control brought to its extremes could mean to the security of your own country could provoke poverty, insecurity and increasing distrust an all sides.


  5. A very informative analysis looking at multiple perspectives with good contextual considerations. I personally disagreed before reading this and still do, however points were covered that I was not aware of.

    The writer has remained unbiased in written text and weighting of the passage which is important.


  6. Interesting perspective on both sides. I believe politics and foreign policy affect engineers regardless of their ethical stand. I agree with utilitarianism, but followed in the long run. Building a wall for the short-term gains presented in this article is wrong, while relationship and environmental considerations are more important for this decision.


  7. A good use of appropriate citations throughout. I think you have well presented both sides of the argument for and against. Very informative on both sides and an interesting analysis of current politics with consideration of ethical implications.


  8. I agree with the above comments that this article presents a good breakdown of the pros and cons of Trump’s wall and presents certain factors I had previously not considered in depth such as the potential environmental impact.

    One concern I have with the ‘Safety and security’ pros in this article is the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the wall in relation to its ability to ‘deter migrants from both making a dangerous journey in the first place as well as from climbing the wall’. As explored in a previous comment, the outcome is unknown and there is a risk that it could lead to even more dangerous attempts. The potential risk to lives here outweighs the potential good and to take this gamble would be unethical.


  9. In judging whether building the wall is an ethical act or not, one way is to analyse it through the lens of consequentialism, which was employed in the article. The consequences in terms of environment, employment, crime and so on has been highlighted.

    However, if reviewed through the lens of deontology, we assess morality of the act itself, which is to build a wall. This is a neutral act, but the underlying purpose is to secure the border and reduce crime in the country, which is noble. It is no different from enforcing tighter border screening except for the usage of a physical barrier to prevent intentional trespasses. Is such an action universally wrong? I would not say so. If we generalise further, we could even justify by saying it is an act of precaution.

    Therefore I conclude that although the consequences of building such a wall are up for debate, deontology tells us that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this act. In fact, it is hypocritical to claim otherwise, just take a look around.


  10. Some good points made regarding the environmental and monetary implications of such a project. However in rebuttal to the wall being a safeguard against dangerous crossings….. it is commonly accepted that human migration is inate to our anthropology; a giant wall isn’t going to stop this. In fact it is likely that people attempting to cross the border will go to further extremes, putting themselves at increased risk to make their passage….


  11. A first rate un-biased for and against list of pro and cons which has in turn produced a healthy debate.

    The damaging environmental implications are by far the most concerning. The Rio Grande River forms 1,255 miles of natural border between the two countries. As it is logistically impossible to build a wall through the middle of a river, it raises the question as to which side of the water would the wall be built on? Building the wall on either side of the river would cause potential erosion, shifting soil, cause flooding as a water barrier (unlike a fence) and perhaps most importantly – the egregious devastation to the local wildlife by destroying natural migration patterns.
    George W Bush had to override 30 Federal Environmental Statutes just to place fencing along specific areas of the border including the Endangered Species Act and Clean Drinking Water Act. Was this ethical? It begs the question – what Environmental Statutes would Trump end up overriding? Not to mention the violation of various treaties determining allocation of the areas natural resources.

    The teleology of the wall is to stem the flow of illegal immigration. However, according to estimates (Politifact – September 2015) up to 47% of all 11 million illegal immigrants arrived in the United States legally on tourist visas through airports and official checkpoints. When the 30 day visa expired they just didn’t leave and their status switched from legal to illegal. How will a border wall combat these figures? Building on this point, Princeton sociology professor Douglas Massey has stated that tighter border security and militarisation has backfired, as rather than stopping undocumented Mexicans from coming to the U.S. to work and then return to Mexico, greater enforcement stopped them from going home altogether as returning to the US would be too difficult. This is called Circular Flow and was the result of the policy under the Reagan and Bush administrations in response to public opinion for tighter border regulation.

    A recent survey by The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research found that 58 percent of Americans oppose new spending for the border wall, with just 28 percent who support it. This is direct democracy speaking and from a utilitarian position defeats the proposal to build a border wall.

    In addition I agree with Becky and Eric Cantona’s point that ‘the people attempting to cross the border will go to further extremes’. Building on this point, the smugglers who are paid by the immigrants would start to charge astronomically higher prices for the increased difficulty a wall would present, it can therefore be argued that the erection of the wall not defer the crossings but would actually just make the illegal smugglers richer. Where there is a will there is way, regardless of walls. Human behaviour exhibited this in the Berlin Wall era as well as in the Gaza Strip and the DMZ between North and South Korea.
    Furthermore, according the United States Border Patrol, illegal border crossings in the year 2000 amounted to 1,692,544. In contrast, that figure was already reduced to an all-time low in 2015 at just 337,117, achieved without a full border wall, though fencing and walling has been erected in the urban areas that populate the border.

    From a teleological, pragmatic and utilitarian perspective, the building of this wall is not justified.


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