To Wall or, Not to Wall?
Just because Trump can’t make up his mind doesn’t mean we can’t.
Another day and another flip or flop from Donald Trump, who either doesn’t want to be President or, has turned into the king of triangulation, figuring he’s got the anti-immigrant vote sewed up, so it’s time to court the immigrant vote.
It might work. Who knows? Not that long ago we impeached a President for lying about sex under oath, then elected a President who struggled with the English language, then we elected a closet Marxist and now tens of millions of us are flirting with the a man whose claim to fame was body slamming and punching Vince McMahon on Wrestlemania 23. Which, in case you forgot…
…is almost as embarrassing as some of his tweets. But, just because he’s flip-flopped on doesn’t mean we can’t figure out what we as a nation want to do.
Nations are defined by many things, social norms, economic systems, systems of law and government, all of which have meaning inside its borders but, most of which have different or no meaning outside its borders. Borders don’t just demarcate where one nation stops and another begins, borders maintain the social, economic and legal differences between nations and populations.
Many borders are porous, allowing some people to enter or exit unrecorded. Until recently, the European Union allowed virtually unhindered movement across its internal borders, although this year’s influx of refugees has caused some of its members to back away from that pledge. Cuba, on the other hand, takes its borders seriously, denying passports to most of its citizens and jailing almost all persons attempting entry or exit without authorization.
The US is somewhere in between. We grant passports and the right to exit to anyone who can afford to pay for them, but at the same time have lots of rules dealing with who’s allowed to come in — rules we enforce when we want to.
In a bid to fill a sparsely populated nation, for our first century the United States accepted almost all comers, eventually allowing them to become citizens. However, an influx of large numbers of Chinese laborers depressed wages, causing us to reconsider, and in eighteen-seventy-five we became selective, a trend that’s continued officially and unofficially been ignored to this day, depending on what suits those in charge.
In nineteen-sixty-four Lyndon Johnson and Congress passed the Maquiladora Act, opening a virtual border that allowed US companies to ship unfinished goods to Mexico and Mexican companies to finish those goods and send them back, in effect importing cheap Mexican laborers without bringing them across the border.
The next year LBJ and Congress passed the Welfare Act, ostensibly to fight poverty, something that might not have been necessary if they hadn’t exposed the US labor force to low wage Mexican labor the year before.
But, US lawmakers still weren’t satisfied. They refused to secure the border or enforce immigration laws, allowing millions of Hispanics to live and work illegally in the United States, creating another wage crisis. This time Ronald Reagan and Congress responded with the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, legalizing those millions, allowing them to become citizens in exchange for border enforcement — enforcement that was never going to happen for two reasons: US companies wanted access to cheap labor, and without population growth US economic growth would slow, along with the revenues needed to fund LBJ’s welfare state.
By nineteen-ninety-three, just before NAFTA, there were thousands of Maquiladoras, employing hundreds of thousands of low wage workers, responsible for almost half of all Mexican exports; and because the border wasn’t secured, millions more working illegally inside the United States.
And since Reagan no one in the White House or Capitol Building has been willing to do anything about it. Which brings us to today. By allowing unknown millions of illegal laborers to enter the country, we’ve managed to cap wages for both skilled and unskilled, but unenfranchised (those who don’t need licenses or official sanction to work) workers, and we’ve managed to expand the economy almost fast enough to pay for the welfare state needed — to a great extent because of those low wages.
The illegal immigrant sword we’ve been polishing for the last fifty years is definitely two edged, and while one edge has cut corporate costs, the other edge has cut incomes for wage earners. While doctors and lawyers and politicians and other franchised workers have done well, today’s construction workers are paid almost exactly the same hourly wages as was I — forty years ago, when I was doing the same job.
Illegal immigration, while benefiting the professional classes, has crushed the American lower and middle classes.
Our borders have been so porous, they’ve impoverished a large swath of our population, and even that’s not enough; for some in the franchised classes, porous isn’t enough; they want completely open borders.
In mathematics we use reductio ad absurdum to disprove ideas. We assume the idea to be true, then show that assumption leads to an absurd conclusion. Let’s try that with open borders.
There are three-hundred-thirty-million people in the United States. Our per capita income is $15,480. There are seven-billion people living outside the United States whose per capita income averages $2,920, twenty-two times as many people making less than a fifth as much money.
Suppose we officially open our borders. What will happen? Do you doubt one-billion-one-hundred-million Africans will take the next available boat to Miami and one-billion-two-hundred-million Indians will take the next available boat to Los Angeles and one-billion-three-hundred-million Chinese will take the next available boat to San Francisco? You shouldn’t, because they will, not because they’re bad people, but because they think the United States has more to offer them than do their own countries.
In fact, there aren’t enough boats to carry everyone who’d want to come here, just as there aren’t enough coyotes to guide all the illegals wanting to cross our officially closed but unofficially open borders now.
With porous borders or no borders we end up being a hodge-podge of a few of us mixed in with the vast majority of humanity that’s worse off than us; OK for the enfranchised, living in cloistered communities and benefiting from cheap labor; but less OK for those living and competing with the hodge-podge for even lower paid jobs and government handouts. QED.
That this has become apparent to many Americans is clear from the support showered on Donald Trump after he pledged to secure the border and deport our illegal population.
Americans responded, but were Trump’s promises wise, or even possible?
Once upon a time the Chinese built a wall, twice as high and long as Trump’s. It was (and is) a beautiful wall, so strong the Chinese were sure it would keep them safe, but the Mongols got over it, and it took the Chinese more than a century to retake their country by force of arms. The biggest, baddest wall man has ever built didn’t work. Deadly force did. So it has been — always.
The Canaanites built a wall around Jericho. In response, the Israelites invented synchronized marching and shouting, and you know the rest of the story, the wall failed.
The Trojan walls were higher and stronger than Trump’s proposing, but once Odysseus invented the fake horse, Troy’s mighty walls no longer worked.
The French built an immense, fortified wall called the Maginot Line, and soon after, the Germans invented the end-around and, since the Maginot Line was an immovable object, it didn’t work. Deadly force did.
Stalin built the Berlin Wall and, people responded by climbing over it, until East German guards started shooting them. Once again, it wasn’t the wall that worked, it was force. The history of walls is shot through with stories exactly like this, a wall without the use or threat of deadly force, doesn’t work.
Even the bits and pieces of border wall we’ve already built aren’t working. As I write, thousands of Mexicans and Other Than Mexicans are busy climbing ladders or throwing knotted ropes over it or digging tunnels under it or simply driving or walking a few miles out of town, where there’s no wall and in many places not even a fence, or (my favorite) hiding in Trojan cars and trucks.
Odysseus would be proud, even if the hidden illegals aren’t coming here to conquer us, just depress our wages, taken to the extreme it feels the same.
One imagines, shortly after Ogg built man’s first wall, Ogg’s neighbor built man’s first ladder, so Ogg raised the wall, so Ogg’s neighbor dug man’s first tunnel and made off with Ogg’s goat. Realizing what had happened, Ogg took up his club, beat his neighbor senseless and took back his goat. The world’s first wall didn’t work but, in a prelude to the future, force did.
“Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man.” History proves Patton right; build a wall and man will find a way through, over, under, or around it. Without force of arms or the threat of force of arms, it will have been an enormous waste of resources. Humans are incredibly clever and, nothing captures our attention like a prohibition. Walls are like signs, “I dare you!” and, ever since Ogg’s neighbor, humans have taken up each and every one of those dares and defeated each and every one of our walls.
Fear of heights doesn’t stop people migrating. Fear of death does. Only the credible threat of deadly force keeps people from going where they want to go. No matter how thick or high Trump builds his wall, people will climb over, tunnel under, go through or around his wall. Around?
Take Cuba, lots of beaches, very few marinas, no boats. If Cubans could have boats there’d be no Cubans, they’d all be Floridians. Mexicans, on the other hand, have plenty of boats and a government that encourages illegal migration. What will Mr. Trump do when faced with a refuge flotilla, sink boatloads of illegal aliens? Really?
And then there’s the Rio Grande, a 1241 mile complication. Do we wall the middle of the river? Do we wall Big Bend Park and Nature Reserve? Or, maybe it won’t matter. Maybe Trump trades south Texas for something else, Cancun?
There is an alternative. The fourteen-billion dollars Trump’s going to spend on the wall would equip and maintain a light infantry division, one we need after downsizing our military. Would we rather have an infantry division to use as needs arise or, a 2,000 mile wall that requires guarding anyway? The wall will take our entire concrete production for at least eighteen months. Do we really want to shut down all other construction for eighteen months?
Or might Trump outsource the wall to Mexico in exchange for Arizona or California?
I’m betting twenty-thousand infantry with night vision and drones and LTVs can lock down two-thousand miles of border. Will they shoot people crossing the border? Hopefully, the ones who shoot at them; but what about those just looking for a better life who refuse to stop? I’m guessing we’ll end up shooting one of them and he or she will become a Mexican national hero, even a saint, with a statue on the the bridge at Nuevo Laredo, but history has shown over and over again, nothing short of deadly force stops people.
If nothing else will stop people but, the credible threat of deadly force, why build a wall? Why not use deadly force just once then, use the credible threat of continued deadly force to stop illegal border crossings?
First lock down the border, then lock down a realistic immigration policy.
That’s the second part of the no-wall solution, fixing immigration. Twelve-million illegals is a laughable fiction. They’re everywhere. I’ve worked with them. I’m guessing most of you know several illegal aliens, though, you may not know they are illegal because they look and act like you. I’m guessing we have thirty-million illegals, ten percent of our population.
Put a bounty on them and we could find and deport eighty or ninety percent, but tracking down the last ten or twenty percent would mean national IDs, roadblocks, spot checks, warrantless searches and, lots of money, and, what’s the point? If they are so well embedded that not even their neighbors know they’re illegal maybe we should let them stay.
If an illegal alien with no other criminal history is running a business, employing our fellow citizens, do we really want to deport him or her?
Consider too the financial impact of deporting ten percent of our population. Low end retail and housing would sink into depressions at the same time we’d lose millions of skilled and unskilled workers. I sympathize with legal workers whose wages have been depressed for decades, but after decades of depending on illegals, I’m not sure we can do without some. Think your high school or college kids will pick lettuce or roof a house or pour concrete? If we deport thirty-million illegals too quickly, agriculture and construction will suffer for lack of labor. If we do it over a period of years, wages will adjust and so will labor, without too much disruption.
Work permits used to work. They could again.
I’ve spent half my adult life working in other countries, paying for background checks, permits, bonds, visas, sponsors, whatever my hosts demanded, things meant to ensure I wasn’t a criminal and wouldn’t be a burden on them. We could use the same mechanisms, as we have in the past, to temporarily let in people we want and keep out people we don’t, which isn’t just our right, it’s sensible — unless we think we need more criminals and indigents.
Beyond the financial impact of sending thirty-million people back, it’s not as legally simple as it sounds because millions of them are Other Than Mexicans. We can’t just haul them to El Paso and frog march them over the bridge. The Mexicans would tell us thanks but, no thanks, the OTMs aren’t their problem. it’s going to take time and money to sort them out and send them home.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t deport anyone. In fact, I want to deport lots of them, starting with the most obvious - criminals and societal burdens.
Thirty percent of our jail and prison population is made up of illegal aliens. Instead of jailing criminal illegals here, and releasing them inside the country, to revictimize our fellow citizens, let’s hand them over, to be dealt with as their own governments see fit. Fly them home accompanied by US marshals or, walk them across the bridge in cuffs, with their rap sheets attached then, don’t let them back.“Here’s Dmitri. He’s a convicted fraudster. Do what you want with him but, he’s on our no fly list — forever.” Or, “Here’s Juan. He’s a convicted burglar. Do what you want with him, but if he crosses the border again we’ll shoot him.” Then follow through. If he comes back, shoot him.
And the world’s poor will — remain poor.
Sound heartless? Maybe, but, after decades of living in some of the world’s poorest countries, I realize Christ was right, the poor will be with us always. I remember John McCain’s “They’re all God’s people.” and thinking his link to God may be better than mine, but he knows nothing about poverty. If we turn this into a moral issue, if we’re morally obligated to support every human who makes his way to our border, why are we not obligated to support the ones who, through no fault of their own, cannot make their ways to our borders?
If we obligate ourselves to one, are we not morally obligated to them all?
There are five-billion people on this planet living below the US poverty level, most with no education or first world skills. Apart from pathos, they have nothing to offer. There are one-hundred-twenty-million American tax payers. That’s roughly forty-one indigents per taxpayer. Accepting them would cause immediate economic collapse. We’d all end up living below the poverty level.
At what point does self-preservation trump charity? To preserve our nation as we know it, let’s send home those in our illegal population that came here for the free stuff. Let them get their free stuff elsewhere. They’re easy to find. To get their free stuff, they had to sign up. They are part of the public record.
On average, each illegal alien drains just over $5,000 per year more in legal, medical and welfare costs from us than they pay to us in taxes.
Beyond the criminals and indigent we, as a society, have to decide whom we choose to send home and whom we wish to invite to stay. Criminals and social burdens are obvious. The rest, not so much. Let’s take it slow and think about what we require of our fellow citizens, then decide which of our illegals have met those requirements, and consider letting them stay.
And finally, everyone’s intractable problem - the Dreamers.
Sending illegal parents home doesn’t have to split families. They can always (gasp), take their children with them. Their children are after all, citizens of their parents’ home countries. Splitting their families isn’t our choice it’s theirs, and because it’s their choice, splitting implies wherever they came from is so bad they’d rather be separated from their children than take them home. So be it. Leave your kids here, with friends or relatives, split your families, but don’t blame us for your past mistakes or present choices.
The Dreamer issue would have been avoided if the language of the Fourteenth Amendment had made explicit its intent. Its intent was to ensure the children of emancipated slaves would be US citizens, but it was vague enough to allow politicians to reinterpret it. It should read simply: A person born to a US citizen parent or US citizen parents is a US citizen. A person born within the US or its territories or jurisdictions to two non US citizens is not a US citizen. He or she is a citizen of his or her parent’s home countries.
This is the policy in force through most of the world, citizenship transfers from parent to child, not from happenstance of geographic location to child. My parents were US citizens. Had my mother given birth to me in France, or Italy or China, the French or Italians or Chinese would not have considered me a French or Italian or Chinese citizen. They’d have considered me a noisy American, as I undoubtedly was.
All of the above suggestions go far in solving our immigration and illegal alien problems. None of them involve a hugely expensive,environmentally suspect, doomed to fail, fixed barrier.
So, why are we wasting time talking about a wall?
Because we have a presidential candidate who’s spent most of his life building walls. If all you know is nails, every solution looks like a hammer. If all you know is building, every solution looks like a wall.
If all you know is suing, every solution looks like a lawsuit. Remember Trump’s first solution for illegals — sue Mexico. If all you know is failure, every problem looks like bankruptcy. Remember his first solution for the national debt — default, wait until our bonds are worthless, then print more dollars and buy them back. Then his masterstroke — the wall.
It appears Trump’s experience of the world is so limited he thinks every problem can be solved by one of his tiny repertoire of universal answers: sue someone, stiff someone, or build a wall to keep them out.
The average American is better and smarter than that. Let’s do the better and smarter thing, forget the wall, secure the border with our military, then take our time about deciding who goes and who stays.