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How Much Would Trump’s Snake-and-Alligator-Filled Border Moat Cost?

Michael Rainey

President Trump has asked his staff to investigate some pretty extreme options related to border security, according to a forthcoming book by Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times. “Privately, the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate,” the journalists wrote in the Times on Wednesday.

Trump stridently denied the report — “I may be tough on Border Security, but not that tough. The press has gone Crazy. Fake News!,” he tweeted Wednesday — but that didn’t stop Peter Singer, a defense strategist at the liberal New America foundation, from thinking about the cost estimate White House aides reportedly worked on. Whether the president wants it or not, how much would the U.S. have to spend to build a moat filled with snakes and alligators along the border with Mexico?

According to Singer’s quick, tongue-in-cheek analysis, the federal government could stand up a Snake and Alligator Border Guard for about $2.5 billion, with operating costs of about $1.8 billion a year. Here’s how Singer came up with the numbers:

  • $21 million for alligators, assuming 10 per mile, with a mix of adults ($2,000 each) and hatchlings ($150 each).
  • $40 million for transport of alligators along the border.
  • $683 million for snakes, a mix of water moccasins (for bite) and coral snakes (for visual deterrence).
  • $291 million for feed, in the form of rats. “There is an argument that our new guard force will be able to subsist on the flesh of illegal immigrants,” Singer writes, “but there is no guarantee that we will have the proper distribution of family members of sufficient size and weight (especially problematic are the small children) to sustain the new border system.”
  • $130 million for zookeepers to manage the whole operation.
  • $1.3 billion for medical costs to treat surviving bite victims before they are returned to their countries of origin.

Surprisingly, Singer doesn’t include the cost of digging the moat itself. A separate effort by Jeremy Glass of Thrillist to calculate the cost of constructing a moat (for personal use, oddly enough) came up with an estimate of $1,000 per foot. Applying that number to the 1,954-mile border produces a rough cost of $9.7 billion.

The bottom line: Combine the cost of setting up the Snake and Alligator Border Guard with the cost of digging the moat and you get $12.2 billion, with operating costs of about 10% per year. This suggests that the country could build a snake-and-gator-filled moat for much less than the current wall effort, which has an estimated cost of at least $25 billion.

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