Solving the US Immigration Problem Isn’t Hard

Only three facts must be recognized: first, sealing the over 10,000 mile border of the Continental US (lower 48) is nearly impossible; second, immigration is generally desirable; third, illegal immigration will be a significant problem as long as it is incentivized.

Building an “Impenetrable” Border Doesn’t Make Sense

The US border with Mexico is about 1500 miles, with Canada (neglecting Alaska) is about 4000 miles, and with Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico is about 5000 miles (neglecting Hawaii and Alaska). Building walls (estimated to cost about $4M per mile) would cost about $6B for Mexico, $16B for Canada, and significantly more to protect maritime borders. Maintenance costs would typically be about 5% of the wall cost per year. In addition, manning the walls would would require 24/7 rapid response teams positioned every 100 miles or so at a cost of about $3M per team per year, with the maritime teams significantly more expensive. This all goes to say that protecting the borders of the US is an extremely expensive proposition.

Blocking the borders is also likely to be ineffective for two reasons. First there are likely to be holes in the border, think of the “impregnable” French Maginot line where the Germans bypassed the main defenses during WWII, and the current difficulties in stopping drug smuggling where hundreds of tunnels have been built, clever “secret compartments” have been used, drones have been employed, etc. Second, in this case we are talking about simply turning people back if they are caught, there is no impediment to their trying again, and again, and again … Even if the border is 95% effective, it would only take about a dozen attempts for a 50% chance of penetration.

The greatest effect of border protection would be on poor people without resources to employ clever means of penetration. Terrorists, drug smugglers, etc. would find this only a nuisance because they could afford fake papers, time for planning, air incursions, tunneling, bribing guards, or other means taking time and/or money.

Controlled Immigration Is Desirable

The US is a nation of immigrants. Throughout the years, immigrants have brought new ideas and have performed the most undesirable jobs. They have improved the economy by their willingness to accept less than the US standard of living (but usually better than where they came from) in exchange for hope for opportunity for themselves and their families. What has worked well in the past is a “requirement” for assimilation. Multi-lingual schools, signage, etc. slow assimilation and result in building barriers between cultural groups. Government should not fund or support such anti-assimilation programs, rather legal aliens should have access to programs aimed at assimilation such as English language programs that pay for progress so that legal immigrants could afford to attend.

There Are Currently Too Many Incentives to Illegal Immigration

Incentives include making more money than at home; social programs including welfare, hospital care, and schooling; and citizenship for children born in this country. Each of these incentives must be eliminated or ameliorated.

The issue of wages should be addressed both in the US and in the immigrants’ countries. In the US, much of the money paid to illegals is untaxed. This can be corrected by collecting taxes on income at a fixed rate from employers rather than employees. Only legal aliens could then file a return that allowed them to reclaim some or all of the taxes. This would have the added benefit of reducing the IRS enforcement job by about 80% since only about 20% of taxpayers are employers. In foreign countries both political pressure to raise wages and import restrictions could be used. For example, businesses bringing goods into the US for sale should be required to prove that the median salary paid to workers is above some TBD level — such a measure would have the added benefit of discouraging job migration outside the US.

Government funded social programs, of any kind, should be unavailable to illegal aliens. Citizens should not be paying (through the government) for illegal alien support. Such efforts should be left to private groups.

The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution includes:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

There are currently about 4 million new citizens per year born to people who are illegally residing in the US. The 14th Amendment should be modified to restrict the right of citizenship by birth to those whose mother is a legal resident of the US.

Immigration problems can be greatly ameliorated by adoption of the few practices described in this article.