Above: French artist JR’s installation at the border wall in Tecate, CA. Read more about the piece.
The Trump administration wants to spend $21.6 billion for physical barriers along 1,250 miles of the US-Mexico border to satisfy a lofty promise made on the campaign trail. Trump recently forced the longest government shutdown in US history after demanding a $5 billion down payment on the project. When Congress rebuffed his demands for a third time in February, Trump decided to make an end-run around them by declaring a national emergency. While all lawmakers agree that border security can and should be improved, the case for wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on an ineffective vanity project steeped in racial animus is as thin as tissue paper. We’ll show you why:
The Case Against the Wall
1. There is no surge in the number of people attempting to enter the US illegally.
While it’s true there were more border arrests in 2018 than the previous year, it was still an 80% decrease from the peak in 2000. 2017 was actually a historic low for illegal border crossings. To find a year with fewer arrests, you have to go all the way back to 1971. Even the Department of Homeland Security boasted about the low apprehension numbers in their own report, saying, “the southwest land border is more difficult to illegally cross today than ever before.”
2. There is no security crisis at the Southern border.
In their most recent threat assessment and testimony before Congress, the US intelligence community did not include any mention of a security threat at our Southern border. The Justice Department confirmed to NBC News that “no immigrant has been arrested at the Southwest border on terrorism charges in recent years.” A December report from the State Department said: there is “no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.”
3. There is no evidence of a human trafficking crisis at the border
The number of apprehensions of “fake family units” at the border between April and September last year represented just 0.25% all apprehensions of families on the border. Of those, many may have been children travelling with family friends. The number of people trafficked across the border illegally is unclear — as is the number of people smuggled through ports of entry.
4. There is no violent crime crisis at the border.
There is no correlation between immigrants and crime. In fact, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. In addition, violent crime rates in all but one of the 23 border counties are lower than the national average, suggesting that our borders are as safe and secure as they have been in nearly five decades.
5. A wall will not slow or deter drug trafficking.
According to the DEA’s 2018 annual drug threat assessment, the vast majority of narcotics (including heroin, meth, and fentanyl) seized by Customs and Border Protection come through ports of entry either in packages, cargo, or with people who attempt to enter the US legally. The only drug that is smuggled in higher numbers between legal entry points is marijuana. When drugs are trafficked between points of entry, they are often moved through tunnels, not carried by migrants on foot.
6. A wall will not slow or deter transnational gang violence.
It’s not gang members that are seeking entry at the border, it’s their victims. Many of the families and teens seeking asylum at the Southern border are fleeing gang violence and recruitment. According to testimony from the acting head of Customs and Border Protection in June of last year, only about 0.02% of the total number of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border had any gang affiliation. It’s unclear how many of those may have been attempting to escape their affiliation.
7. A wall will not “pay for itself”.
The average estimate for the wall is about $24.5 million per mile, or $30.6 billion total. A report by the Government Accountability Office found that Trump’s wall would waste billions of dollars and might “cost more than projected, take longer than planned, or not fully perform as expected.” The Department of Homeland Security’s $21.6 billion estimate is likely a massive underestimate since so much is unknown about the wall’s structure or placement. Importantly, that price tag does not include the cost of maintenance, which has accounted for roughly half of the price of the existing barriers over a decade. It also does not include the cost of buying land through eminent domain, and the legal battles that will arise from that effort. More than 90 such lawsuits in southern Texas alone are still open from the 2008 effort to build a fence there.
8. A wall is easy to defeat and difficult to maintain.
While physical barriers can be effective in dense urban areas, they are ineffective in remote locations where border crossers would have more undetected time to work out a way over, under, or through. Much of the current fencing can be easily mounted with a ladder or from the roof of a truck. Some fencing can be cut in minutes. Border Patrol reported repairing more than 4,000 holes in one year alone. And between 2007 and 2010, Border Patrol found more than one tunnel per month, on average.
9. A wall will not slow or deter migration.
A recent study by Stanford and Dartmouth economists found that the addition of hundreds of miles of border barriers as a result of the 2006 Secure Fence Act barely had any effect on migration. A 2016 Migration Policy Institute review of the impact of walls and fences around the world concluded that walls appear to be “relatively ineffective.”
10. A wall will not slow or deter undocumented immigration.
Most undocumented immigrants arrived in the US legally. According to the Center for Migration Studies, visa overstays account for about two-thirds of the total undocumented population.
11. Undocumented workers do not steal job or suppress wages.
According to a comprehensive National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine analysis, immigration does not significantly impact the overall employment levels or wages of most native–born workers. Immigrant labor does have some negative effects on the employment and wages of native–born high school dropouts, because both groups compete for low–skilled jobs, and new immigrants are often willing to work for less at jobs native-born workers don’t want. The report also found that immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the U.S.
12. Undocumented immigrants do not drain our resources.
Actually, the opposite is true. Research by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy suggests that about half of undocumented workers in the United States file income tax returns. The most recent IRS data, from 2015, shows that the agency received 4.4 million income tax returns from workers who don’t have Social Security numbers. That year, they paid $23.6 billion in income taxes. Those working with fake Social Security cards (like those hired to work at Trump’s golf courses) contribute even more. In 2010 it was estimated that at least 1.8 million were working with fake Social Security cards, contributing $12 billion to the retirement fund without any way to withdraw it.
13. Border agents, legislators, and residents do not want a wall.
Internal Customs and Border Protection documents from 2017 showed that border agents pointed to a need for a wall or fencing in less than 4% of identified “vulnerable” areas along the border. Far more often, they expressed a need for more technology and additional personnel. The former head of CPB described the plan as “a waste of time and money.”
Republican Congressman Will Hurd represents a Texas district that includes 820 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, more than any other member of the House of Representatives. He opposes a wall, but supports funding measures that are effective, efficient, and needed. He also knows that the business owners in his district need workers.
Many of the approximately 1,000 land owners along the Rio Grande river have already received letters from the government seeking access to their property, the first step towards attempting to claim it with eminent domain. Much of the land has been owned by generations of farmers and ranchers whose livelihood will be destroyed without access to the river, and who have no desire to sell. Some lawsuits from the government’s last attempt to claim their land are still being fought in the courts.
14. A wall will divide tribal land.
The Tohono O’odham Nation straddles the border, with tribal members living on both sides. A wall would divide their community and disrupt their cultural practices. It also may be illegal, and require an act of Congress to acquire tribal land in this way.
15. A wall will harm the US-Mexico relationship and put US farmers at risk.
Manufacturing, agriculture, energy production, and ecosystems on both sides of the border depend on equitable and effective water sharing from the Rio Grande and the Colorado River, dictated by long-standing international treaties. If Mexico decided to retaliate against the US building a wall that violates treaties, U.S. farmers and others along the Rio Grande could face water shortages that cost them their livelihoods.
16. A wall would severely harm the animals and environment of the border region.
According to an analysis by Stanford biologists, physical barriers disrupt critical access to food, water, mates, and migration routes of thousands of animal species in the borderlands. Some species could even be at risk of extinction. Previous wall construction in Nogales caused severe flooding and damage. Reports of government bulldozers surrounding the most diverse butterfly sanctuary in the US have already begun.
17. Most Americans do not want a wall.
A Gallup poll conducted last month found that 60% of Americans oppose significant construction of a wall along the southern border. Also notable: 61% oppose deporting all undocumented immigrants, and 81% believe undocumented immigrants should have “the chance to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements over a period of time.”