Funding for President Trump’s border wall may have slipped through the cracks after the government shutdown, but the border wall still remains a contentious issue among politicians. Thus, it will be just as important in the future for Democrats to double-down against Trump’s border wall – an ineffective policy measure riddled with impracticalities.
The Current State of Illegal Immigration
Although Trump has framed the immigration debate as one of urgency, the reality is that illegal immigration has been significantly declining. In 2001, the number of apprehensions at the border was 1.6 million, which decreased to a mere 300,000 in 2017. Pew Research also found that the total undocumented immigrant population has decreased from 12.2 million in 2007 to 10.7 million in 2016, indicating that fewer undocumented immigrants are coming to the United States.
Crisis at the Border
To justify the wall, Trump has repeatedly referred to an ongoing crisis at the border wherein drugs, terrorists, and undesirable individuals are entering the country en masse. This characterization of illegal immigration can be very swiftly debunked, however.
Statistics from Customs and Border Patrol indicate that 90% of heroin, 88% of cocaine, 87% of methamphetamine, and 80% of fentanyl seized on the border was from ports of entry, indicating that a wall would be mostly ineffective in reducing the flow of drugs across the border. Additionally, a 2018 DEA Report hypothesizes that drug smuggling via drones will become a popular option for smugglers, rendering a wall useless.
With regards to terrorists entering the country via the southern border, a report from the state department found zero evidence to support the notion that international terrorist groups were crossing the southern border illegally. And in terms of the threat to safety undocumented immigrants pose, studies done by the American Criminological Society and Alex Nowrasteh of the CATO Institute found that the crime rate among undocumented immigrant communities is lower than the average crime rate for citizens of a given state, demonstrating that undocumented immigrants generally do not endanger the communities they live in.
The Impracticalities of a Wall
Despite the wall being ineffective in addressing terrorism and drug smuggling, the wall faces other logistical hurdles that should be resolved before hastily providing funding for such a large infrastructure project.
A report from the Government Accountability Office described the effectiveness of eight different DHS prototypes for Trump’s wall. Using scaling, breaching, engineering design, aesthetics, and constructability as criteria, the DHS found that 4 of the concrete prototypes presented extensive construction challenges, 4 of the prototypes were unable to be built on sloped terrain, and several of the prototypes would have issues with surface drainage and flooding.
To explain such disastrous results, the GAO posits that the hurried and sloppy design period led to lower-quality results. And the DHS responded to the report by explaining that it seeks to combine successful elements of the prototypes into a single wall. However, this does not change the fact that American taxpayers should not be forced to pay billions for a wall whose design has not even been finalized. What makes the wall’s design even more confusing is that Trump’s own tariffs on steel have increased the cost of his proposed steel bollard wall, making it less appealing to legislators. Ultimately, to even be on the table for consideration, the wall must first be validated by engineering experts.
Supplementing the design challenge problem is the issue of eminent domain. Two-thirds of land at the border is privately-owned and even much of the publicly-owned land is Native American territory. Thus, for the wall to be constructed along the entirety of the southern border, the United States would need to employ eminent domain to supersede private ownership of the land on the southern border.
This becomes especially problematic in communities that extend across both sides of the border and in Native American territory where much of the land is considered sacred. Eminent domain will also mire the wall in lengthy lawsuits, setting back the project by many years and incurring legal costs.
Do Walls Work?
Political pundits defend Trump’s Wall by referring to border walls in other countries, namely Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even tweeted, “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea”. The latter part of Netanyahu’s tweet is true: illegal immigration into Israel has plummeted 99% from 2011 to 2016.
However, the wall was not the only immigration policy implemented in that time period. Israel also implemented a policy wherein undocumented immigrants would be required to place 20% of their money in a government fund which could only be taken out upon exiting the country. By making it more difficult to send remittances to family members, the policy removed the economic incentive for undocumented immigrants. Thus, this policy could also have been responsible for Israel’s decline in illegal immigration.
Another factor to consider is that Israel’s border wall was far easier to construct and manage than one built in America. Israel’s border is 150 miles long in comparison to the 2000-mile-long American border. Additionally, the terrain on the southern border is more mountainous and geographically varied unlike the flat desert plane on Israel’s border, which presents engineering design challenges. Thus, the notion that Trump’s wall would replicate Israel’s success in decreasing illegal immigration is not accurate.
Remedies to Illegal Immigration
Rather than following Israel’s decision to construct a border wall, America should follow Israel’s remittance policy. Illegal immigration is a problem of demand and not supply. To truly address illegal immigration, America must reduce the incentives for migrants to cross the border illegally, resulting in migrants themselves choosing not to cross. This objective can be achieved by hindering undocumented immigrants’ ability to send remittances back to their country of origin.
Although this policy is not foolproof, it’s important to recognize that limiting remittances comes at little to no cost to the American taxpayer – unlike the wall – and offers the potential to reduce illegal immigration without the obstacles the wall faces.
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