11 Dec Build the Wall?
Your humble blogger is tempted to write this entire post in three-word phrases, because they seem to be what political aficionados understand best. Stop the steal. Defund the police. Lock her up. War on women. Jobs, jobs, jobs. The one percent. Drill, baby, drill. No new taxes. Yes we can. Let’s go Brandon.
So, we start. Using short sentences. Three words each. “Wide open borders. Illegals invading America. Gangs smuggling fentanyl. Killing our citizens. Taking our jobs. Build the wall! Finish the wall!” Politicians say so. Mostly Republican candidates. Especially Donald Trump. Some Democrats, too. Would it work?
Enough three worders. We will write the remainder of this post in regular prose, and we trust you will understand it just as well. An important issue today is whether a completed wall along our southern border will help America. The issue, in fact, is too deep and nuanced for political catch phrases and slogans of any length.
The Real Facts
As any trial lawyer will tell you, sometimes the facts get in the way of an otherwise-strong case.
The first relevant truth in this wall issue is that America’s borders are not “wide open.” The Mexican border is approximately 2,000 miles long, more than 1,200 miles of which is the Rio Grande River. The other 700 miles are on land. Fencing today covers over one-third of the entire border, with 649 miles completed prior to 2011, another 130 miles built during the Obama Administration, 87 new miles added while Donald Trump was in office, and 20 more being built now under the Biden Administration using funds allocated by Congress in 2019.
Further evidence that illegal immigrants are not coming and going whenever and wherever they please are the arrests of 3,000 to 10,000 people per day who have tried to enter without permission. Of the 800,000 taken into custody while entering illegally from May to September this year, some 295,000 were deported. The rest will need to win legal permission in order to stay, with 600 federal immigration judges deciding those cases.
A second inconvenient fact is that these immigrants are not “invading” America. Most are not gang members smuggling anything (including fentanyl) or anybody. Nearly all of them want to move here to live and work – like the ancestors of most current citizens did. Just as a robust and growing American economy had plenty of jobs available for our own immigrant forebears, there are more than plenty of vacant positions today. Filling the millions of continually-open jobs actually helps our economy and provides more, better-paying work for all groups.
Lastly, if anyone thinks that to “build the wall” or “finish the wall” really would solve America’s problems, they are unrealistic. There is no wall that can be built that will make America completely “secure.” There is no wall that can stop Americans from using drugs or dying from it. There is no wall that will make our streets crime-free.*
*Nor will shooting illegal immigrants – even drug smugglers – “stone-cold dead,” as presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has promised on the campaign trail, accomplish these ends automatically or on any broad scale.
Sloganeering politicians surely know these facts. They are hoping you do not.
Understand, Then Build What Truly is Helpful
We think the necessary first step is to consider why immigrants try to enter America illegally. Ironically, the errant political screaming about “wide open borders under the Biden Administration” encourages people to give it a try, thus only making the problem worse. In other words, if you do not want someone to come here illegally, why send the message that the border is wide open? People seeking better, safer lives for their children and themselves will be strongly inclined to leave poverty or danger elsewhere and head for America, particularly if they think it will work.
Once we learn the initial “why” for unlawful entry, America must figure out how to deter it. The Trump Administration tried a policy of separating families detained at the border, which, although arguably effective as a disincentive, was viewed as inhumane. Violent threats are not much better. Both Trump and Biden used Covid travel restrictions to deter some would-be immigrants, who assumed they would be turned away. In general, any type of program that will require migrants to “remain in Mexico” rather than being released into America while they wait for their asylum cases to be heard here could discourage attempts, but those policies are difficult to enact and enforce.
In a different vein, America must teach legitimate asylum seekers and willing workers how to do so legally, which should keep many from the hands of smugglers or from other risky efforts. Specifically, they must be educated about how to wait outside of the United States until closer to the time their immigration case will be heard.
Having said all this, Principle Based Politics believes there indeed may be valid reasons to build additional or better barriers. More construction should take place only to the extent erecting walls will help deter illegal entry, impede smuggling, and promote lawful immigration.
Ordinary citizens cannot know exactly why people from other countries act illegally, and most politicians (particularly candidates) are not much better positioned to know or to inform us. And, none of us can be sure what prevents illegal entry most effectively and efficiently. Therefore, Principle Based Politics sees border wall construction as something that should be influenced by nonpolitical federal agents on site.
What do our people on the ground need to deter illegal entry and faster process legal entry? What will enable them to apprehend those who cannot be deterred from making illegal attempts? In other words, what will allow them to do their jobs successfully? We should follow the advice of experts, rather than three-word political slogans.
Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics.
Look for his posts each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.