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Conservatives should oppose a wall, too

Irene Bloemraad, professor of sociology | January 26, 2017

Regardless of whether you want fewer immigrants in the United States, more newcomers, or prefer immigrant numbers to remain the same, there is no good argument for a wall on the border with Mexico. It will be a gravy train for Trump’s construction cronies, but a huge expense for taxpayers. Worse, it addresses a supposed problem that doesn’t exist. And, if anything, over time it would increase the number of undocumented people living in the United States, not lower it. This waste of public money should concern conservatives as much as progressives.

Yesterday, Donald Trump ordered construction of a wall on the southern border, acting on a central campaign promise which he claimed would take aim at illegal immigration into the United States. The problem? Net migration from Mexico has been negative or close to zero for years. The Pew Research Center estimates that 140,000 more Mexicans left the United States for Mexico than entered the country from 2009 to 2014. (See here.)  There are no tidal waves of economically desperate Mexicans flowing into the country, despite ongoing fears of drug wars, corruption and economic inequality in Mexico.

This means a multibillion-dollar wall is like building a bridge to nowhere: a nice pay-out to construction companies, but useless in practice. As a candidate, Donald Trump claimed a U.S.-Mexico wall would cost $8 billion. Senate leader Mitch McConnell has put the price tag at between $12 billion and $15 billion. Others provide even higher estimates, up to $25 billion of taxpayer money, based on the cost of completed barriers on the border. (See here.)

Depending on your political views, you may want that money to go to education and healthcare, or directed to veterans’ benefits, or back in the wallets of taxpayers. But certainly everyone can agree that it makes no sense to spend that sort of money for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Even more troubling, especially for those who consider unauthorized migration to be a problem, there is good social science evidence that building walls on the southern border actually increases the number of undocumented residents living in the United States. (For the academic analyses, see research by political scientist Wayne Cornelius here or sociologist Doug Massey here.)

Since that seems pretty counter-intuitive at first glance, it is worth spelling out why.

First, if walls keep people out, they also keep people in. There is a long history of migration between Mexico and the United States, migration that the United States encouraged during World War II and the two decades following since Mexican workers filled labor shortages in agriculture, on railways and in construction. Some of this migration was “circular”: people would work in the California or Arizona for a while, and then return to Mexico. Make that return trip more difficult — with a wall, with a greater chance of dying in a desert or in the mountains, with a higher price to pay to smugglers — and people will chose to stay on “this” side of the fence. As the time they are away from their families grows longer, those family members — wives and children, siblings and parents — will take the risk of going north to live as a family again.

Second, walls rarely keep determined people out. Border control agents will tell you that if a wall is 20 feet high, people will sell ladders that are 21 feet long. Tunnels can be dug under walls. In places where walls are impossible — over rivers or in rugged mountain terrain — humans can go around walls. The cost, however, is high, in both payment to the smugglers who control the tunnels or in the cost of lives lost to hypothermia or heat exhaustion. An overview by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute (see here) reports that while the Tucson, Arizona, morgue recorded an average of 18 migration-related deaths per year in the 1990s, the numbers climbed to almost 200 per year in the 2000s, after walls went up in the San Diego-Tijuana corridor.

Walls mean death. That is an agenda no one should support.

Comments to “Conservatives should oppose a wall, too

  1. I do want a wall, It’s real simple, come into this country legally. Education, well from what I see of your campuses these days, I think we have a bunch of over educated, spoiled children who cannot even handle loosing an election. Ask the parents who have lost their children from the drugs that come into this country daily and illegally, build the wall. It’s easy to have your high moral indignations, when your going to college on more than likely parents backs, most of the youth that have been interviewed about what is going on, have not even voted, and not even registered to vote. Yes Ms Clinton won the popular vote, well liberal states, New York, California, and a couple of other over populated states brought her over the top, but the most popular states should not be allowed to dominate the rest of the country. That is why the electoral college was formed by our forefathers. I’m tired of this nonsense, let’s put our heads together, join our ideas and make a difference. Last evening there were ,2/1/17 , fires, broken windows, and people hurt, not one arrest, why??? I believe in your right to protest, voice your views, and be idealistic, but in a lawful manner. This has gone to far, just because you don’t agree with someone else’s views, it’s wrong.

    Grow up, get a job, see how the middle class feels when they have to take from peter to pay paul. That is who has been forgotten, everyone is crying for the poor, and crying against the rich, well my dear who do you think pays for all those programs, the middle class slob that just goes to work every day and tries to make sure his kids get a better life than he/she did and realizes that it will probably not happen. Keep one thing in mind, the poor get all they need from social services (oh btw, I work in government, and I see so much abuse and greed from our poor, that is disgusts me), the middle class pays for that, and the rich they can pay for own.

    So yes, I want people to come into my country legally, faithfully, and pay taxes like the middle class does. Coming into this country is a privilege not a right, get vested like any law abiding citizen.

    This is just one last thing, when we send our children to these wonderful higher education schools, we want them to be learn to think for themselves, not be clones of their professors views. Maybe instead of higher education, maybe when you turn 18 you should be required to do something for your country, like serve two years in service, or peace corps, something that opens your minds to the real world.

  2. Making America Great again will take work! Lots of damage from the past 8 years will need to be repaired. Controlling the borders of this country is one step in that long process.

  3. This is backwards elitism. The people who get the short end of the stick of illegal immigration are the middle class who foot the bill of school and hospital benefits that illegal immigrants receive and the illegal immigrants who are paid below fair wage because they’re have no voice as non citizens. The only people who DO benefit are large corporations. The democratic establishment has become the party of the rich. They support big business above ALL ELSE. This is just crap.

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