5 Steps to Fix our Immigration System, and Yes, Build the Wall


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My position on building barriers on our borders (“wall,” “fence,” or any other term you like) seems to be controversial. Thus, I want to explain it here.

First and foremost, it is absolutely true that our border security system is broken. It is absolutely true that a barrier built in isolation would not necessarily solve problems and could also create a few new ones. It is absolutely true that a barrier that serves the functions I mention below may end up being too expensive to build. (This post is written based on the assumption that such an obstruction could be built without “breaking the bank.” In reality, that remains to be seen.)

Also, I’m not much concerned with the “intangible” reasons people give themselves about why they do not support building a barrier on our borders. I’m concerned with practicalities: pragmatism and realism. The practical implication of not building a barrier along our border is that one piece of our immigration policy–the piece about actually crossing into this country–could be described by three words: “whoever,” “wherever,” and “whenever.” Tired comparisons to one’s house and locked doors aside, it should be easy to see that this is neither good economic policy, good security policy, nor good immigration policy. No, it isn’t true that we can accomplish the same thing with a “technology fence” and increased numbers of border agents. That has been tried, and it didn’t succeed; our borders are simply too long and, in places, too inhospitable.

Before getting into explaining the reasons that I do support the “border wall,” I want to first make sure that it’s clear that those reasons do NOT include racism, cultural concerns, or anything of the sort. Again, it’s pragmatism. So here we go…

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It is true that smugglers usually smuggle people, drugs, etc. across our border at established checkpoints, via water, and using other means that would be unaffected by a land barrier. It is also true, however, that smugglers do indeed use routes they’ve established that cross the border far away from any border checkpoints. Just ask the many farmers in southern Texas who own land at the border and who frequently find people–and evidence of people–on their property making their way north.

It is also a practical truth that policing only checkpoints is far easier than policing thousands of miles of open terrain. Barriers are pragmatic manifestations of this very basic fact.

Finally, choke points are frequently used in military strategy, and they are applicable here. Finding drugs or people being smuggled across our southern border anywhere along its 2,000-mile length is daunting. Forcing any traffickers that use the open desert into checkpoints (the “wall’s” version of choke points) would make the cost policing much lower and probability of interdiction much higher. It would also increase confidence in general (less wondering about what you’re missing along the hundreds of miles of border that see an ICE agent only once or twice a year–if at all).

Yes, drugs and people could still be flown across the border. Yes, they could come around either side of the barrier on the water. Yes, they could come through check points. “The wall” would not solve those problems, but it would simplify them by removing a source of much uncertainty along the land route.

I’ve focused here on two kinds of trafficking, but all of this applies to economics and security as well. Without effective control of who comes here and in what numbers, immigration can never be completely tailored to the needs of our economy. Without knowing who is coming here, when, and why, we can never be sure that those coming here do not intend to do us harm. (Indeed, many have crossed our borders with that exact purpose in mind.)

I’m advocating making a barrier along our borders part of a larger immigration overall. A barrier alone would create many problems and would be an excuse for having no real policy. This is what should happen, costs notwithstanding.

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(1) Build a barrier along the length of the border that cannot be dismantled easily, cannot be dug under easily, and cannot be climbed over easily. Maintenance costs must also be low.

(2) Increase the use of technology and agents at the checkpoints that penetrate the barrier. This means not only more thorough and effective screening and border crossings but also more efficient ones that move people through more quickly.

(3) Rely primarily on technology to monitor the parts of the barrier that are not near crossings and that rarely, if ever, have a border patrol presence. This is where technology can really add value.

(4) Change immigration quotas annually to match the needs of our economy. Asylum requests not pegged to the needs of the economy should also be considered on a case-by-case basis. This is America, after all.

(5) Streamline the system for granting visas and all other forms of entry so that the path to legal immigration is quick and easy. It should take months or even weeks–not years. The increase in barriers along the border should come with an increase in efficiency in admitting those whom we need and who are coming here legally.

This system would benefit both Americans and immigrants. It would ensure that only those immigrants whom we need can come, which is a benefit to Americans. (I’m sorry, fellow conservatives, but that number would probably still be in six figures every year. The point of the “wall” would NOT be to end immigration. The point would be to change how it happens.) On the other hand, it would ensure that those immigrants who do come are documented and are legal, are paid a fair wage, and are not taken advantage of by their employers. It would also ensure that taxation is paid.
If the “wall” were cost-effective–a big “if,” so we must assume that it would be for the sake of this discussion–why oppose it? One’s argument then is literally “I do not want barriers to entry on our border.” Why? Many will say “because it’s racist.” Well, I just laid out an argument that has nothing to do with race.

Many will say that “it serves no purpose.” (One can only credibly say this if one can show that no one ever crosses our borders except at monitored checkpoints, which simply is not true.) I just showed here that it would serve a practical purpose, but even if you don’t think I’m right, there’s still a chance that I am. The benefits of being right–especially if the barrier is a reasonable price in the first place–are surely worth the price of building it and being wrong about its benefits. What harm would have been caused because of it?

Several people have asked me why I support it. This is why. Borders were a formality for much of history. In the modern world, they simply aren’t. (Just ask Europe.) On this issue, I must agree with Donald Trump: a country should know who is crossing its borders and should have the means for controlling that flow with high confidence. Period.

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