I cannot imagine how the border wall could work. But I may be wrong. It could be that proponents of the wall know something that others, such as me, do not. Below I outline why I doubt that the wall could ever work. I ask those readers who disagree with me to show where my errors are. I will make my best effort to respond to as many comments as realistically possible. If someone will write a polemic explaining why and where I am wrong, I will write a reply. Let us have a conversation. – HAK
President Trump wants the wall. If one asks Google about Americans’ support for the border wall, most opinion polls confirm that it is almost 50%. For example, it was 46% in a recent Rasmussen poll. Hence, we have to take with a grain of salt the bold headlines that a majority of Americans oppose the wall. That majority is very thin. Also, we have to take under consideration that the fierce anti-immigration policy, including the construction of a border wall, is the pillar of President Trump’s political platform. This is what got him elected. This is why he still has 40% approval ratings. Also, one needs to take into consideration that 89% of Republicans support President Trump, when only 7% of Democrats do. It means that one of the two major political parties in the United States firmly supports building the wall. Meaningfully, on Dec. 20, in a 217-185 vote, the House of Representatives approved $5.7 billion for the wall, whereas the Senate at the time of this writing was still against it.
The question is what those 89% of Republicans supporting President Trump’s immigration policy know that about 50% of Americans have missed. As a blogger, I have been writing about immigration for several years. Seeking feedback, on a variety of internet forums I debated many border wall supporters. None of their arguments sounds convincing to me.
Should international migration be tamed?
Many see international migrations as chaos. In this point of view, every nation-state has its traditions, and the borders should protect them. In this approach, for example, the racial, cultural and religious backgrounds of non-European migrants in Sweden are seen as so diametrically different that these migrants are perceived as a distortion of the well-being of the host country. Behind this reasoning is often the not explicitly expressed conviction that people should seek happiness within the country where they were born, and should not disturb other countries with their unsettling presence and life aspirations. Parallel to this line of thinking, people should have the right of not having to face foreigners moving into their neighborhood, either.
For me, this line of reasoning, regardless how well-dressed in patriotic sound bites, perfectly fits the definition of xenophobia. People have been moving around the globe since the beginnings of time and I see no reason to expect that it would ever stop. The realistic approach is in accepting that the freedom of migration is a basic human right and that a reasonable policy should accommodate it.
In the United States we have a border problem because for the past 100 years (since the 1917 Immigration Act) our immigration policy represents the view that immigration should be tamed. This policy is in obvious contradiction to the aspirations of many Americans who would like to pursue their way to happiness by hiring foreigners and in contradiction to the desires of many foreigners who would like to come and build their prosperity here. Every time that the bureaucratic vision of what the society should be goes against inner human desires, we have a black market – in this case, illegal immigration.
The need for an enforced border wall arrives from the fiasco of 100 years of our restrictive immigration policy. When everything done so far has failed, the zealous supporters of the limited immigration policy desperately ask to do with greater determination what had been failing so far. They advocate for the wall.
An open border is a better border
According to the narrative of the vocal border wall supporters, we need it to protect peaceful Americans from the invasion of rapacious foreigners. A nation without borders is not a nation, they say.
The truth is less thrilling – people coming here illegally just want jobs. Also, they would not be coming here if Americans were not offering these jobs. We would not have illegal immigration if foreigners could come easily and legally to work in the United States. With more traffic back and forth, there would be continuous feedback going to their countries of origin. Others thinking about coming would know how realistic their chances were to get a job here. Only those confident that they could succeed would come. Those who arrived but could not find a satisfying job, would go back, knowing that they could try again later. With a system of this kind, there might be a lot of border crossings, but all this traffic would be legal; that means, under full control by proper American authorities.
Now, most people in Latin America have next-to-no chance to come to the United States legally. They tend to overestimate their abilities to prosper here and underestimate their likelihoods to improve their fate in their own countries. Many fall for the emotional trap that moving to the United States can resolve all their problems. Also, those who make it here but have difficult adapting try to hold on as long as they can because they know that it’s unlikely they will have a second chance. Despairing of their prospects, some are lured by organized crime; others become a burden to our welfare system. None of this is good for the United States.
Hard-core immigration opponents are emotionally set against any increase of legal immigration; their focus is on doubling or tripling our so far unsuccessful attempts to limit illegal immigration. They are lured by an illusion that the wall can do it. They simply underestimate people’s ingenuity. Simply, if the wall were tall and strong enough to prevent people from crossing (I doubt it ever will be), then the focus would turn to corrupting United States officers manning the gates. It can be efficiently done only by organized crime. From what I am hearing, illegal border crossing is already controlled by the Mexican mafia. They have the resources to find a “hook” on many people guarding the border in order to “convince” them to cooperate.
In response to the reasoning stated above, I often hear a dismissive: “You are for open borders.” My answer is always: “Tell me what you mean by open borders.” I see as more practical allowing more foreigners to come and try their luck here and in the process to contribute to our prosperity as well. In this respect, the phrase “open border” is an oxymoron, because if it is a border, it cannot be open. But staying with the terms used by immigration opponents, the open border is accommodating inner human desires for migration, but having all that traffic inspected by proper government agencies. It means much better and much cheaper border control than with the border wall.
Protecting American jobs
Supporters of the restrictive immigration policy and the border wall as a part of its enforcement say that we need it to protect American jobs. In the very concept of the United States, the duty of the government is not to create prosperity for Americans. It is exactly the opposite; it is in providing security so Americans can build prosperity for themselves with as little government involvement as possible. In this context, the government has no constitutional obligation to create or protect American jobs.
The problems started when more prosperous Americans, instead of hiring their neighbors, preferred to hire foreigners. As those working for others are the majority, they voted in our current immigration law. In this sense our immigration policy is legal, but could and should be challenged as unconstitutional, because its core provision is harmful for the well-being of the United States as its boils down to accommodating less industrious Americans at the cost of impeding the freedom of enterprise of the more entrepreneurial Americans, those who provide jobs and actually create the wealth of the nation.
Proponents of restrictive immigration claim that we need it to dam the greed of the rich. As much as one can sympathize with this argument, we have to ask calmly if greed is declared illegal by the Constitution. In reality, what some might perceive as greed can be the necessity of business owners to stay competitive in the global market. It simply means that without the work of foreigners, many businesses in the United States could not survive. One can hear complaints that greedy corporations move abroad in search of cheap labor. No one is asking how many factories have been closed in the United States because they could not find the cheap labor that many immigrants could provide, but we did not let these immigrants in.
In order to stay on the leading edge worldwide, it is practically impossible for American businesses to have all the labor needs available locally. It is our blessing, and a competitive advantage, that so many foreigners want to come and work here. It is an illusion that we need only people with Ph.D. diplomas. We need, as well, uneducated workers to keep some factories from relocating abroad, and all kinds of workers between the two. It is simply sad that so many politicians and pundits are so deeply entrenched in their anti-immigration positions that they cannot see how damaging these are for the nation’s well-being.
Our immigration policy boils down to the protection of Americans from the competition of foreigners. The practical result of this policy is that too many Americans believe that they deserve the middle-class standard of living just because they are Americans. I see a logical connection between this thinking and Pentagon reporting that only 29% of young Americans meet the criteria needed to join the military. Let us be honest, many of those not meeting the military requirements do not qualify for most well-paid jobs, either. Also, 11% of men of working age (25-54) are not employed or looking for work, compared to 4% in 1950. When looking beyond these numbers, one can see poor education as the most common cause. From reading “Coming Apart,” one can conclude that at least 10% and maybe as many as 20% of Americans are not prepared to function in the contemporary highly technologized world; simply speaking, they cannot get or hold a job. But the politicians advocating for the wall simply lie, indirectly telling these Americans that with the border wall, illegal immigrants will not be coming here and there will be more jobs for Americans. The truth is that without foreign laborers, many businesses in the United States would need to close or relocate abroad. The border wall, if built as promised by President Trump, will result in fewer jobs for Americans.
It is about freedom
Our immigration law is not intended to protect any of our nation’s universal values. All key provisions of this law were voted in on behalf of the least entrepreneurial Americans, who simply do not want to learn as much or work as hard as successful people all over the world do. These regulations target directly Americans who actually create jobs in America, by limiting their freedom of hiring whomever they need, regardless if that person lives across the street, across the ocean or on the other side of the Rio Grande.
Many Americans have doubts about the logic and moral grounds of at least some provisions of our immigration law. Consequently, the law is commonly disobeyed. In response, gradually, the government has been granted extensive policing powers, not over the illegal immigrants but over Americans who defy our immigration law. It is worth noting that Republicans, usually very loud in advocating for a small and restrained government, when it comes to the immigration policy, they support expansion of government policing powers. The best example is E-Verify, almost unanimously accepted by most Americans. No one described better how E-Verify can begin an unprecedented intrusion of the federal government into the lives of Americans than professor John Cochrane in his WSJ op-ed.
The combined budget of immigration enforcement and border control is already double that of the FBI. Let me ask a troubling question: What will happen with these policing powers if, in some way, illegal immigrants stop coming and most of the illegal immigrants leave? Will people working there be dismissed, or will government find new tasks for them? With illegal immigrants gone, whom would they be targeting, if only Americans will be within their reach?
Let us assume that a strong anti-immigration policy will be continued. Let us say that the border wall will be built. New immigrants, legal or illegal, will not be coming. Most illegal immigrants will be deported or leave voluntarily. By means of taxes and tariffs the government will try to protect American-based businesses from foreign competition, as the current administration already has started. As a result, the American economy will become economically isolated. The jobs will disappear. Politicians will feed us with megalomaniac talk about American greatness, but in reality our economy will weaken.
Of course, others in the world will be more than eager to fill the void caused by the weakness of the United States. Shanghai will aspire to become the new Wall Street, and many centers in Asia will compete to become the new Silicon Valley. Our politicians will be as clever as they are now; instead of removing the cause of the weakness, they will try to use their policing powers to prevent others from taking advantage of our weakness. They will try limiting others’ access to technologies that only the United States has. Also, they will notice that certain technologies are critical to our military dominance.
To their dismay, many bankers, scientists and engineers will be lured to work in Asia. As always, instead of using their brains, our politicians will flex their muscles by passing laws requiring bankers, scientists and engineers to obtain government permission to leave the country. These permissions will be as easy to get as legal immigration visas are now. Then, the newly completed wall on the Mexican border will become handy in catching bankers, scientists and engineers trying to escape the country illegally. I am speculating here, but let us be realistic, am I unreasonable?
Analogies to Prohibition are striking
Similar to Prohibition, a majority of Americans support our restrictive immigration law. Prohibition gave the federal government powers to curb the freedom of individuals in the name of what was believed to be good for America. Our immigration law does the same. Even supporters of Prohibition did not see much problem with them having a drink here and there. Even supporters of our immigration law see no big issue with an illegal immigrant as a nanny in their house. Prohibition, in the name of a lofty goal, limited the freedom of most Americans to enjoy their life the way they saw fit. Our immigration policy deprives Americans of their ability to hire foreigners they would like to hire.
Prohibition turned many otherwise law-obeying Americans into criminals because they were doing things that were not evil by themselves but had been arbitrarily declared illegal. Our immigration law turns into criminals some Americans entering into employment contracts, which arbitrarily have been declared illegal. Lastly, Prohibition created a fertile ground for the emergence of organized crime that has been difficult to eradicate. It took about half a century to dismantle these organizations after Prohibition was repealed. As it is becoming harder for illegal immigrants to cross the border, organized crime has stepped in. We can only guess how long it will take to surmount crime organizations, which have gained strength by facilitating this need.
It is worth mentioning that the core concepts of the immigration law, as we have it now, have been shaped in years 1917-1924 by the same politicians who voted in Prohibition in 1919. The same arrogance that a majority can impose their political will on the rest of the society prevails. The same majority had an illusion that they had a mandate to use government policing powers to coerce others to abandon activities that in general are moral, such as having a drink or hiring a foreigner, just because they had the political power to declare it illegal.
Prohibition was repealed in 1933; our immigration law, with several nonessential modifications, still stands. Behind it is the same political wisdom that brought us Prohibition. It is as easy to implement, and as easy to enforce, as Prohibition was. One hundred years of failure did not prompt our politicians to revisit its core provisions. It should be repealed as Prohibition was. Instead of addressing the real problem, the nonsense of the immigration law we have, our politicians argue whether the border wall is or is not the most efficient way of enforcing it. They did not learn from history. As cynics say, history teaches us that it cannot teach us anything.