President Trump’s executive order Wednesday, mandating the construction of a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, is a strange milestone—the validation of the central proposal of his campaign, one that has been roundly dismissed by experts as pointless, ineffective, and wildly expensive.
But while Trump can achieve much by simple executive orders, the order on the wall offers little in the way of clarity. Wednesday’s order is really just a set of instructions for Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. The American public still doesn’t know how big the wall will be, when it will be built, or how it will be paid for—to pick only the most glaring questions.
The executive order the president signed today touches on several areas of immigration policy and border security. Let’s look at the relevant ones on the wall:
Sec. 2. Policy. It is the policy of the executive branch to:
(a) secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism;
(e) "Wall" shall mean a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier.
So far this is clear enough. At times during the campaign, Trump supporters suggested that rather than build an actual physical barrier, he might create a “virtual” wall, or some sort of digital-surveillance mechanism. The order declares a policy that it’s a physical barrier, though that could change. But as the order itself mentions, this is ostensibly already the law of the land, under the Secure Fence Act of 2006. However, an alteration to that law a year later gave the Department of Homeland Security discretion to not build the fence in places where it deemed in unnecessary.