With the federal government now navigating through the fourth week of a partial shutdown, both parties have drawn their battle lines, and no one seems to be budging on what appears to be the sole hang up: Trump wants to fund his border wall and the Democrats refuse to give it to him. While a physical border wall has long been a part of Trump’s administration, from the early stages of his campaign to two years into his presidency, the wall is indicative of a much larger problem: we do not want to talk about immigration; we want to use immigration.
There is no denying that immigration is a divisive issue within the two-party paradigm. Republicans campaign on strong national security and law and order, so border security and illegal immigrants are an easy target during stump speeches. Combine this with an “American First” attitude; you get a home-run of an issue that stirs the volatile emotions of voters, who are concerned about safety and who is employed by American companies. On the other side, Democrats tend to make the emotional or compassionate argument, pulling the heartstrings of their base and painting a picture of the general suffering of humanity and the disinterest and even maliciousness of their opponents. The result of both sides together is an issue that only leads to abrasion between Americans and a lack of long-term solutions to the satisfaction of all involved.
The border wall is only one proposal in a litany of ideas to fix immigration in the United States. Over recent years, we have seen nation-specific immigration bans, “DREAMers,” increased border security, a break down of civil liberties along the border, and increased crackdowns by ICE. Despite all this, illegal immigrants remain in the United States and continue to cross the border, although those numbers have decreased in recent years, contrary to the alarm that continues to sound from Washington.
So, what are the perceived benefits propping up this tenacious support of the wall? They are relatively basic: fewer people crossing soft spots and openings, a decrease in illegal drugs smuggled into the country, a decrease in crimes perpetrated by illegal immigrants, lower risks of foreign terror. However, when we consider the reality of the current state of immigration, the illegal drug market, and the threat of terrorism, these hopes and dreams are only just that; hopes and dreams.
Illegal Immigration is in Decline
Illegal immigration has long been on the decline over the last decade and has reached its lowest point in those ten years. Logic would say that if something is working, keep doing it, and perhaps even turn up the volume just a bit. However, the wall is not turning the volume up a bit or even a reasonable addition to current security measures. It is a disproportionate response to positive signs. Physical security barriers are burdened by the fact that they are incapable of adapting to new threats. The Transportation Security Agency is a perfect example, as every new security measure is released publicly, allowing those who wish to sneak something through to change their methods. A physical wall, even one backed by surveillance and more border patrol, will be planned for and overcome by those that truly wish to get through.
Illegal Crime versus Natural-Born Crime
Crime is always an issue that favors Republicans, who tend to take a firm position on punishment as a deterrent and the preemption of crime as a necessity. When a crime is committed in my current home of Phoenix, it is local news at best, unless the severity of the crime bears regional or national attention. When I lived in Philadelphia, a crime required violence to make the nightly news. In contrast, a violent crime committed by an illegal immigrant almost always seems to be given at least a week of national coverage, pundits from both sides trying to get their airtime on the issue, and those of each camp who are active on social media trolling the other side. The reality regarding the criminality of illegal immigrants versus natural-born citizens is one of very little difference, although one who comes to a new country illegally may face a more desperate situation. Looking at the great state of Texas, there were 1,797 criminal convictions for every 100,000 native-born citizens in 2015. The number drops to 899 criminal convictions for every 100,000 illegal immigrants and 611 for every 100,000 legal immigrants. While the need to distinguish between crimes committed by illegal immigrants appears to be a necessity, it is only political minutia. Crime cannot be measured by citizenship status, as this disperses resources improperly and shifts the focus away from the social issues that create instances of crime.
Legalization of Drugs Decreases Smuggling
One of the lynchpins of the arguments for increased border security and, more importantly, the wall, is that we need to prevent further drug smuggling from the southern border into the United States. However, stronger border security seems to be a non-factor when we are discussing a black market that thrives under prohibition. In border states that have legalized cannabis, there has been a steady decline in drug smuggling and the crimes that come with it, particularly homicide. Homicides have fallen by 13%, murder has fallen by 10%, and homicides specific to the drug trade have fallen by 41%. It is no secret that the drug cartels have explicitly flourished because there has not been a legal outlet in the United States for decades. With the recent changes over the last ten years and the expected changes coming in the next two and four years, it is a safe bet that crime related to prohibited drugs, including smuggling, will continue to fall. If prohibition increases or remains the same, a physical border wall will only be an extra obstacle for the cartels to surpass.
Terrorists Are Boogeymen
When you are struggling to win a debate in the United States, throw the word “terrorist” out, and you will probably find some votes along the way. Since 9/11, it has been the ultimate call to rally Americans to support a politician or policy. We sacrificed our civil liberties with the passage of the Patriot Act, convincing ourselves that it was necessary for our security. In that vein, would a border wall stop foreign terrorists from sneaking into the country? In short, no. The hijackers on 9/11 came to the country legally and then overstayed their visas. Between 1975 and 2015, only 154 terrorists have been foreign-born and of those 154, only ten came to the country illegally. While Americans have been taught over the last two decades to look for terrorists in every shadow, the odds of being a victim of murder are 252.9 times greater than being a victim of foreign-born terrorism. The steps that the government has taken since 9/11 have produced strong results. A wall would just be garish.
So Why the Wall?
As noted earlier, immigration is a home run for lawmakers regarding getting votes and support in the form of donations. Both parties seem keen on arguing the point until the end of time, but neither seems willing to talk about real, long-term solutions that could settle the matter once and for all. The wall is more a testament to the stubbornness of career politicians than it is a viable solution to any of the supposed problems at the southern border.
Five billion dollars is a drop in the bucket of the federal budget, but estimates put the necessary amount closer to twenty-two billion dollars. Again, not bad for government work. What we are ultimately looking at is a pork project that will funnel billions of taxpayers’ dollars into the border states, who will most likely hand the job off to their handpicked contractors.
Despite appearances, I love the wall. It is one of the most beautifully crafted displays of partisan politics, tribalism, cronyism, corruption, and divisiveness that has ever been on display in the United States. The level of eminent domain necessary is startling by itself. It is not sexy like a new space shuttle either; it’s a wall. In the midst of the microcosm of fighting presented by the media, there are other options. These come in the manner of reform, such as shrinking the welfare state, streamlining the citizenship and residency processes, probationary periods, offering seasonal work visas, ending the war on drugs, and ending foreign intervention and meddling in the Middle East. However, all of this would require shelving the pride the of the men and women of the House, Senate, and Oval Office and a rational mindset taking hold of the capital.
Unfortunately, the wall is the silver bullet that Americans love to read about and one that Republicans appear willing to take between the eyes if it means getting our votes. Democrats are hedging their bets on their base becoming more active, as indicated by the Midterms, and leveraging the apparent monstrosity of the Republicans and animus towards President Trump to garner more support. If the Republicans gain even an inch, they will take the proverbial mile in 2020. If the Democrats can hold their ground and reopen the government on their terms, it will inflate their chances next year. Meanwhile, immigration policy in the United States and all related issues will continue to suffer. We can certainly build it, but folks will continue to come; that is the reality of a nation that lacks the willpower to set partisanship aside and embrace common sense reform. But, then, what would we fight over?
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