California farm leader says he has a funding fix for Trump's border wall – and it doesn't come from US taxpayers or Mexico

Key Points
  • A farm leader in California's largest agricultural region believes he's got a funding solution and it doesn't involve U.S. taxpayers or Mexico.
  • President Trump is scheduled to inspect eight different border wall prototypes on Tuesday when he arrives in San Diego County.
  • However, securing the roughly $22 billion to build the wall remains a hurdle for Trump, who campaigned on having Mexico fund it — something country rejects.
Federal agents stand watch over U.S. President Donald Trump's eight border wall prototypes as they near completion along U.S.- Mexico border near San Diego, California, U.S., October 23, 2017.
Mike Blake | Reuters

When President Donald Trump will visit the border wall prototypes Tuesday in San Diego County, he may have a favorite design in mind, but getting the votes in Congress to secure financing still remains a hurdle.

Then again, one California farm leader in the state's Central Valley — the biggest agricultural region where growers and ranchers have relied on immigrant labor for decades — has come up with what he thinks is a border wall funding solution. And it doesn't involve using American taxpayers' money or funds from Mexico's government.

Rather, the plan involves using proceeds from fees paid by about 8 million undocumented immigrants as part of a path to citizenship, and not just the 1.8 million "dreamers," or young undocumented immigrants.

Trump reviews border wall prototypes

Estimates put the cost of the south border wall at almost $22 billion and indicate it would take more than three years to construct, according to reports. In all, there are eight border wall prototypes built by six different companies. Four of the prototypes are made from concrete and the rest from steel or other materials.

Trump campaigned on getting Mexico to pay for the border wall but so far they have refused. In January, the White House asked Congress for $18 billion over the next decade to fund the construction.

Currently, the U.S. has a nearly 2,000-mile land border with Mexico but only 654 miles is fenced. Trump is scheduled to visit near the Otay Mesa border crossing in California and inspect border wall prototypes up to 30 feet high.

In September, Trump said he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which protects people brought illegally to the U.S. as children from deportation and also provides them work authorization. However, the president gave Congress six months to iron out a legislative solution.

Some conservatives are opposed to giving "amnesty" to undocumented immigrants. But most polls show there's support for keeping DACA in place.

"We need to take care of DACA," said Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League, a Fresno-based agriculture advocacy group representing growers and related related businesses. "They've gone through their background checks, they've done their pictures, they've done everything."

Cunha also said about 8 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants work in the United States, including some doing various kinds of farm labor jobs. He also said many are paying taxes too.

"These are not the criminals, these are the people working," he said. "What criminals are going to pick tomatoes or pick raisins or pick tree fruit or almonds or go milk cows?"

Regardless, Trump has only proposed a citizenship pathway for up to 1.8 million undocumented immigrant dreamers and not the larger group of undocumented immigrants suggested by Cunha. But if Congress and Trump went along with it, the plan could raise about $20 billion or more from applications and other filing fees paid for by about 8 million undocumented immigrants.

According to Cunha, raising money for the border wall would involve the following:

  • First, the U.S. would allow roughly 8 million undocumented immigrants to have a path to citizenship by paying $1,000 apiece for three-year work authorization cards similar to those issued to DACA recipients. "So the president would have $8 billion earned in round one for the wall," Cunha said.
  • Second, the 8 million immigrants in the third year could renew their status for a 10-year card for another $1,000, bringing in about another $8 billion in total fees. Cunha said the second fee round, however, could be increased to make it $1,500, or generating some $12 billion, "because that's the last time they'll pay their fee because they get their 10-year card.

In other words, when adding up the combined fees paid for both rounds of authorization cards, the total amount raised would approach around $20 billion but could increase if fees are adjusted upward.

"The U.S. is not paying one stinking penny for it," Cunha said. "And these are not the criminals. These are the people working."