Border security has been a hot button topic for decades. While it is a major argument in the current political cycle, opinions often shift based on public opinion and what one party believes its backers will favor. The current president Donald Trump is a stark supporter of aggressive border reform, including a larger border wall. However, would a larger border wall impact illegal immigration? The answer isn’t cut and dry.
Do the Reasons for a Building Larger Border Wall Hold True?
Many Republicans claim a longer border wall is critical to improving America’s safety in preventing undocumented illegal immigrants from entering the United States. In recent years this has become a Republican vs Democrat stance, yet the last Democratic presidents, #
Clinton and Obama, both backed longer walls at the time of their presidency. To some, it’s more a human rights issue while to others it is a security issue. But who’s right?
History of the US Border and Border Patrol
The history of the United States border is interesting. The U.S. government founded what would eventually become known as the Border Patrol to prevent the immigration of Chinese workers into the United States. A large influence of Asian immigrants pushed into the United States during the mid-1800s to help build the railroad and to prospect for gold. As many were eventually turned away at ports along the California coastline, some landed in Mexico and tried to migrate north.
During the Second World War, many American men went to fight in Europe and the Pacific. This left millions of open jobs to be filled. Women took up many of these jobs, but still, a large portion couldn’t leave their homes and children. To help fill the void, Mexican workers were bussed up from Mexico to work the land, pick crops and fill in where needed. This declined following the Second World War, but the trend continued for several years.
Following 9/11, everything changed at the border. While the U.S. Border Patrol played cat and mouse with immigrants crossing in search of work, the U.S. government saw an open border as a potential threat of terrorist activity and of drug movement. The DEA and other government agencies had already cracked down on the cocaine influx into Miami. Colombian cartels used a trampoline tactic of selling to Mexican cartels and they assumed the responsibility of transporting drugs through the northern border.
Though there are dozens of variables to consider, the current issue of border patrol isn’t necessarily about the prevention of incoming terrorists, but to stop the influx of drugs and potentially dangerous Mexican citizens.
Do Immigrants Pose a “Clear and Present Danger?”
The vast majority of immigrants do not pose a threat to American citizens. Most want to work, and many who cross to work would rather return home. However, as border crossings have become more dangerous (and more expensive), returning home is no longer a viable option. With that said, there will always be the potential for danger of a criminal hidden among any group of people, including immigrants.
As with just about everything, it takes one bad apple to make the entire tree look bad. The vast majority of gun owners are safe and responsible, but it takes one bad seed to make everyone look bad. It is the same way with bankers, lawyers, and every other profession. With immigrants, it takes just one dangerous individual to make all immigrants look bad.
There has been an influx of dangerous immigrants and drug-trade-related crimes to strike inside the United States. The Sinaloa Cartel (primarily based out of Sinaloa, Mexico) has increased a drug trafficking foothold into the United States and now there are cartel related hits taking place as far north as Chicago.
On the flip side, over 90 percent of firearms used by the cartel (and retrieved by both Mexican and U.S. authorities) were legally purchased in the United States. In many ways, the border opens up potential problems for both sides.
Is the Border with Mexico Too Open?
Realistically, it depends who you ask. There are some who would prefer an open border with Mexico and greater legal access for migration. In this view, if some violent criminals make their way in, it is all right. Most immigrants are hard workers who pose no threat. They often take jobs many Americans would not. Others would tell you if someone wants to cross into the United States they should do it legally, and the strict restrictions on legal immigration should remain in place.
There are thousands of miles of areas that are not walled between Mexico and the United States. Following the last major addition to the wall the influx of illegal immigrants (determined by the number of crossers caught and deported) went down.
Camps of illegal immigrants trying to cross has appeared on nightly news broadcasts recently. The Border Patrol has used a catch and release method in the past. More recently, they have been instructed to hold on to immigrants for the time being, so there isn’t necessarily a massive influx of more immigrants. The difference is how they are being processed.
As they are not being released back into Mexico (where it is not illegal to cross into the U.S. by border hopping), there are different laws regarding the holding of children, which is why many children have been separated from their parents. They are not allowed to hold the children like they do adults.
Realities of Migration Across the Southern Border
There are several issues at hand that make up the southern border issue and the need (or lack thereof) of a border wall. A border wall, even if it stretches from Gulf to Ocean, will not stop illegal crossings. It will reduce the numbers, but it will also make it more expensive for crossers and increase human trafficking.
Border crossings have become a financial boon for human traffickers. Many of these traffickers are connected to the drug cartels, which helps fund their criminal endeavors. Instead of paying a coyote to lead them across the border, an immigrant must pay to be transported to not only cross but to ride inside vehicles to make it to a set destination. Crossing the border isn’t the problem, it’s making it to a city like Los Angeles or Houston or further north, where there isn’t as much of a Border Patrol population.
Until Mexico increases its minimum wage, people will continue to cross. However, Mexico struggles financially due to the presence of organized crime, corruption, and drug cartels, so mandating a substantial increase will take decades, if not longer. An illegal immigrant can make more money in one day of picking crops than they could over an entire week working in a manufacturing plant in Mexico, Latin America, or South America.
There is an assumption that immigrants are taking jobs Americans would take if they didn’t have to compete with outsiders. This isn’t true. As the illegal immigrants are not protected by U.S. minimum wage laws, farmers do not need to pay them as much, which makes them more attractive to hire on. Due to this, farmers will almost always hire an illegal immigrant who puts in a hard day’s work than an American citizen.
There is a flip side to this though. Buy paying less money for crops to be picked, production costs to consumers are reduced. This means you save money on every apple, strawberry or lemon you purchase. Also, Border Patrol can no longer enter farmlands, even if they know illegal immigrants are working. Unless the farmer grants permission (which they won’t because it cuts down on picking time), there’s nothing Border Patrol can do once the workers are on the farm.
La Lomita: A Border Wall Case Study
The border issue is so much more than just building a wall. Yes, building a wall will reduce illegal immigration. However, it will never stop it. It won’t stop the influx of drugs and it will probably only continue and even increase the amount of human trafficking.
The border town of La Lomita, Texas had a wall built after the Secure Fences legislation was passed in 2006. The legislation intended to build a barrier along 1,954-miles of the southern border. Only 700 miles of barriers have been built so far. La Lomita residents had their land sequestered, and some claim that they have not been adequately compensated even to this day.
While many in the town are for greater security along the border, most residents realize that building a border wall will do little to prevent border crossings. Residents regularly see immigrants climb the barrier in their town, despite a heavy presence of Border Patrol in the area.
The Fight Over Border Security Continues
In the United States, the conversation around building a border wall has become an entrenched debate, with one side against the other side and neither discussing a compromise. However, as is often the case, the real answer lies somewhere in the middle. A border wall might help, but it’s will not fix the problem. It’s a band-aid on a gaping wound. Both sides need to work together but, as it stands, it does not look like that type of cooperation will happen soon.
The way that immigration across the southern border is portrayed has become counterproductive to solving the problems. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have a full understanding of the issue and most stand staunchly on one side of the debate or the other, without diving deep into the facts and without exploring realistic solutions. Until that happens, and the country works closely with Mexico, even if a border wall goes up it won’t be a final solution.
On the other side of the border, there’s no reason for Mexico to crack down on illegal crossings, which again isn’t illegal in Mexico. A large percentage of Mexico’s GDP comes in the form of money sent back from the U.S. by workers. According to NPR, this number now makes up 20 percent. If you were to combine this with the drug industry, which makes up another 20 percent, nearly 40 percent of the country’s GDP is from some form of illegal activity.
The only way the border crises will ever resolve itself is if Mexico increases its minimum wage and if the United States allows approved immigrants into the country to work before sending them back (seasonal workers). It worked in the past and it would go a long way. Until that happens, even a border wall won’t stop the problems.