Parlor Talk: The Great Wall of America

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Donald Trump’s wall may have encountered problems recently as it seems that Congress will be footing the bill now and not Mexico. This is an interesting turn of events, especially considering that this wall was a critical campaign promise. President-elect Trump tweeted out later that day that his wall would eventually be reimbursed by the Mexican government further down the road. With all the commotion being made over the wall, it can pay to do some fact checking to see exactly what we have in store for our southern border. 

The distance of the border between Mexico and the United States is 1989 miles, but with natural barriers, the wall that Mr. Trump proposes would only need to be around 1000. The Economist reports that this project will likely cost 711 million worth of concrete, 240 million of cement and with the added cost of labor the wall is likely to cost somewhere between 15 and 25 billion dollars. This amount would have to come directly from the US Tax payers as Mexican officials have refused to pay anything towards the wall.  

The legal matters of the wall, on the other hand, seem to be resolved. The Los Angeles Times reports that a bill to build a wall along our border was approved by a Republican Congress during the Bush administration. So legally speaking, the wall is already passed. However, this bill did not provide for any way to fund the wall. The path to starting construction lies in the congress. CNN reports that the conservatives may pin the wall into the budget for this upcoming term if the democrats oppose this it could cause a government shutdown. This looks bad for the democrats and so the conservatives assume they are set for launch, only time will tell what the congress will do with this controversial issue. 

With tensions so high regarding the wall and the implications it could have on our economy, the stakes are high. Pew Research reports that in 2014 11.1 million illegal immigrants migrated to the United States, this accounts for three percent of our population. 8 million illegal immigrants were counted among our workforce, about five percent.  These workers contribute to our economy by providing a competitive advantage to businesses to hire them at a low wage. If we perform a mass deportation or if this wall causes illegal immigrant labor to dwindle, the cost in production could increase as businesses are forced to pay unskilled Americans higher wages. This wall could potentially damage our economy through the reduction of unskilled labor, something we can all agree is not beneficial.

 The impact on our workforce would be negative, but for some, the benefit of fewer immigrants would be worth it. The Center for Immigration Studies reports revealed that more than half of illegal immigrants are on welfare. The cost of supporting an illegal population through social assistance can be hefty, as the average household headed by an illegal immigrant from Latin America consumed over 8000 dollars in welfare benefits. This is a fair amount more than our native populations, which consumed on average 4000 dollars per year. 

Support and criticism of Donald Trump’s wall are fierce but for many people, there is a broader societal effect that will be felt from the construction of a wall of this proportion. Many critics of the wall claim it is a monument to xenophobic thought patterns. The cultural impact of such a strong anti-immigrant sentiment may embolden the xenophobic amongst our population. It stands in almost direct contrast to the Statue of Liberty, which is commonly seen as a beacon for immigrants. On the other hand, conservatives believe that this wall will send a very powerful message to the population about the rule of law and order. The common sentiment among conservatives is that this wall will help discourage immigration and crime.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that this wall will keep immigrants out. The University of Arizona performed studies which revealed that increased death is the result of increased border control, with little impact on the immigrant population.  Marc Pierini, a former ambassador to Turkey said, “A wall can slow someone down. It can compel them to change the route they take. But when people want to cross, whatever the motivation is, they will find a way to cross." 

With little evidence for the support of this wall available, one has to wonder why this wall is necessary? Conservatives claim that the financial burden of illegal immigrants may become too much to bear and while this claim is substantial, considering a number of illegals utilize welfare, can it outweigh the cost of building this wall? Is there not a more cost-effective way to reduce illegal immigration? As studies have shown, illegal immigration does not dwindle as enforcement increases. In fact, the only increase is immigrant death at the border. A bi- partisan effort to reduce immigration through law and policy may be the one shot that conservatives have to stem the tide of immigration and conserve tax payer dollars. 

From what the facts report, this wall does not seem to be beneficial to anyone. Conservatives will end up paying for a wall that may or may not be effective, and liberals will see increased deaths at the borders as people continue to defy borders. Whatever your ideas about immigration, this wall seems to be the least likely way to reduce immigration and improve lives.