WTF Is a "Smart Wall"? The Actual Border Solutions Behind the Shutdown Deal

POTUS has a Democrat to thank for branding his shutdown compromise.

by James Dennin

With the specter of widespread airport closures on the horizon, President Donald Trump finally put an end to the government shutdown on Friday that’s left some 800,000 government workers and a million sub-contractors without pay for almost a month. At the center of the grand compromise, instead of a traditional wall, the president touted the agreed-upon funding for something called a “smart wall.”

“The walls we are building are not medieval walls, they are smart walls, designed to meet the needs of front line border agents and are operationally effective,” the president said.

The notion of a “smart wall” was the sound bite that was seized upon by Twitter. Would said smart wall support voice assistant integration? Would there be a USB port? Would it be able to sync to my Alexa?

Incidentally, it was a rare moment of bi-partisanship for the president, as the “smart wall” was actually an idea first floated by Democrat Jim Clyburn, who recently ascended to the powerful position of House Majority Whip. In remarks originally reported by The Hill, Clyburn noted that while the party was open to compromise when it came to funding border security as part of a deal to reopen the government, he said this would only happen to fund “what I like to call using a smart wall.” You can also see some echoes of this Frankenstein-ass policy in Clyburn’s Jan. 23 tweet, below, calling for “smart border security, not a concrete edifice.”

It’s of course possible that Clyburn had something more specific in mind when he decided to embrace the phrasing (touchscreens? temperature control? green light bulbs with automatic dimmers?). But based on Trump’s explanation, it seems like the “smart wall” was an attempt to brand border security policies Democrats have always advocated using — technology like sensors or drones — using the language that characterized Trump’s racist campaign promises. In other words, it was a turn of phrase designed to get POTUS to agree to a deal.

“They are made of steel, have see-through visibility, and are equipped with sensors, monitors, and cutting-edge technology, including state of the art drones,” Trump said in his Friday announcement. “We do not need 2,000 miles of concrete wall from sea to shining sea; we never proposed that; we never wanted that.”

Adding tech like sensors and drones to the border was floated as recently as Wednesday, when Democratic Caucus leader Hakeem Jeffries told the New York Times that Democrats were open to a deal that included “scanning technology,” infrastructure improvements, and more personnel. Of course, the president’s remarks — “we never wanted” 2,000 miles of concrete wall — try to paint a picture that that is what he’s been arguing for all along, an obviously inaccurate claim. Below, if you care to revisit them, are the now-notorious remarks he gave at a 2016 campaign rally in Phoenix.

“We will build a great wall along the Southern border,” the president said. “And Mexico will pay for the wall. One-hundred percent. They don’t know it, yet, but they’re gonna pay for it. On day one, we’ll begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, Southern border wall.”

Whether the president’s base will see this compromise for what it is, a concession, remains to be seen. But, as the journalist Margarita Noriega points out, most of this is a moot point, anyway. Even this newly funded “smart wall” will be surmountable with a saw, and, as everyone knows, roughly half of Visa overstays arrive by plane, anyway.