The Border Wall: Isolationism or Safety?

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These articles are the first in a new series, in which YU Republicans and Democrats will deconstruct and explain a new policy position every month. In this edition, they tackle the proposed border wall. 

Democrats: Build Bridges, Not Walls

President Donald J. Trump is a man of many promises. Throughout his unprecedented campaign and shocking victory, he has sworn to repeal and replace Obamacare, imprison Hillary Clinton, defund Planned Parenthood and bar refugees of Muslim descent from seeking shelter on our shores. His promises have known no bounds, spanning the utterly audacious to the utterly intolerable, causing a greater divide in our nation than ever before.

There is one promise in particular that has been the focal point of Trump’s campaign and platform, and has remained with him from the election’s hopeful beginning, to its sober end. This promise, once leaving Trump’s lips, took on a life of its own, sparking movements and controversy, hope and despair. Its supporters see it as America’s saving grace; its opponents see it as dangerous and demeaning.

Ever since Trump rode his golden escalator to the Republican nomination, (and eventually the presidency) he has promised to build a large wall spanning the entirety of the Mexican-American border, meant to keep out Mexican illegals and Mexican “criminals,” while guaranteeing that Mexico will foot the entire bill.

When announcing his candidacy in June of 2015, Trump stated to all of America, “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively…And I will have Mexico pay for it.” These eloquent and well-spoken words (sarcasm should be noted) sparked a revolution. It garnered support from Americans across the country, whose mantra “Build that Wall” was chanted at Trump rallies, campaign events and protests. Some used the mantra to signify American protection, others to terrify Mexican-American families. When Trump first proclaimed that he’d build a wall, it just seemed like the incoherent voicings of a fame-hungry madman. No one truly believed that Donald J. Trump, billionaire and reality TV star, would achieve the most coveted office in all the land. Some spent months mocking him, others enshrining him, both of which granted him the coverage needed to win the electoral vote and the presidency.

When presidential candidates spew campaign promises, they do so ad nauseam, more times than not abandoning them while in office. Yet, Trump and his beloved wall are not going anywhere anytime soon. Trump has continued assuring the building of his wall, even slamming the media on Twitter, saying, “The dishonest media is not reporting that any money spent, for the sake if [sic] speed, on building the Great Wall, will be paid back by Mexico.” So, since Trump is so adamant on building the Great Wall of China 2.0, I will tell you why he should busy himself with building bridges instead.

Trump has made it seem that the Mexican-American border is unprotected, unguarded, and unfenced—a no man’s land where he claims “Mexican rapists” come through to reap destruction on our innocent American brethren. However, the border is quite protected. The United States allots $3.7 billion dollars a year on border patrolmen and $3.2 billion on border inspectors to protect the divide. The U.S. has also constructed a fence which runs along parts of the Mexican-American border. The resources already apportioned to protecting the border of our allied neighbor are astronomical. How many more U.S. tax dollars will go to fulfilling Trump’s fortified fantasies? Trump’s wall will cost billions, money which can instead be invested in our children’s education or top-notch health care for those in need.

From all of Trump’s disparaging talk about border walls, you’d think that Mexican-American relations are hostile and unfriendly—but it’s quite the contrary. Mexico and America are willing allies and trade partners, and they’ve been getting along (until now). By treating the Mexican government and the Mexican people as inferior, by putting a boundary bigger than the one we already have between our two countries, we risk straining a steady relationship with our Southern neighbors. Trump’s claim that he will make Mexico pay for the wall has caused much tension between our two governments as it is, causing elected Mexican officials to lash out, compare Trump to Hitler and swear that they will never pay for his proposed wall. And why should they? The very idea that Mexico would use its own money to construct a wall of nativism and weariness is preposterous. Trump knows the Mexican government would never dish out billions unprovoked, so he has developed a new tactic. “He will force Mexico to pay for the border wall as president by threatening to cut off the flow of billions of dollars in payments that immigrants send home to the country, and idea that could decimate the Mexican economy.” The moral implications of this maddening notion are severe. By threatening not to allow Mexican immigrants to send their own hard-earned money back to their struggling families in Mexico, Trump is using poor, unassuming individuals as leverage in his wall-building scheme. The money sent from Mexican immigrants to their families in Mexico puts bread in the mouths of innocent families. Trump wants to take that away for the sake of constructing a barrier which will drive Mexican-American relations further apart.

Walls do not only act as physical barriers, but symbolic barriers. By creating an obvious divide between Mexico and America, Trump will be creating a divide between the American and Mexican people. Ever since Trump proposed his wall plans, racist and bigoted Americans have been striking Mexican-Americans while the iron is hot, blaming them for stealing American jobs, criminalizing America, and staying here illegally. By building a wall, Trump will enforce that notion, and further build walls around American hearts. By building a wall, Trump will be caging the equality that has allowed America to take progressive leaps forward, instead of regressive steps back. By building a wall, Trump will teach the children of America that our “land of the free, and home of the brave” builds barriers, instead of bridges.

Republicans: Strengthening America, Brick by Brick

President Trump’s wall proposal is arguably the most controversial plank of his policy platform. The President’s plan is to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, stretching almost 2,000 miles in length across four states, and to have Mexico pay for it.

The idea is not without basis. As Charles Krauthammer, typically a fervent critic of Mr. Trump, writes in National Review, “It’s hard to understand the opposition. It’s the most venerable and reliable way to keep people out. The triple fence outside San Diego led to a 90 percent reduction in infiltration. Israel’s border fence with the West Bank has produced a similar decline in terror attacks into Israel. The main objection is symbolic. Walls, we are told, denote prisons. But only if they are built to keep people in, not if they are for keeping outsiders out. City walls, going back to Jericho, are there for protection.”

So, do we as Americans really need protecting? And, if so, would a border wall offer the best path to security? To answer this question, we’ll need to consider the issue from a number of angles.

First and foremost, the economic effects of illegal immigration are disastrous for America and for Americans: the Mexico-U.S. border is a natural breeding ground for drug cartels and human trafficking, creating a vast market for illegal substances and an opportunity to extort monetary gain from violence at the expense of American lives. Additionally, infirm law enforcement along the border has led to the seizure of American jobs by illegal immigrants. By all economic means, there are a limited supply of jobs and when cheap labor floods the market, other jobs will be lost. Jobs in construction, harvesting, and services that would otherwise go to American workers are thus given to illegal immigrants instead. According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, U.S. employers are able to hire illegal immigrants at lower wages than American workers by ignoring both laws against it and forged employment documents, further incentivizing the hiring of illegal immigrants in place of US citizens.

Our policies on the books for handling these issues are creating problems rather than solving them. According to a recent article by George Borjas, professor of economics and social policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, current U.S. immigration policy costs taxpayers a whopping $300 billion dollars a year. Additionally, The Center for Immigration Studies found that, as of 2015, 62% of households headed by illegal immigrants received benefits from certain welfare programs. Without registering as legal taxpayers or paying any form of taxes, quite simply, they are stealing from the American people.

The consequences of illegal immigration for our country are more than just economically destructive. In 2016, according to Fox News, illegal immigrants committed 13.6% of crimes in America, constituted 12% of murder sentences, and were responsible for 16% of trafficking sentences. All of this despite the estimate by the Migration Policy Institute that illegal immigrants only make up about 11 million people, or just 3.5% of the U.S. population. A report from the Department of Justice in 2014 noted that 50% of all federal crimes were committed near the Mexican border. Moreover, according to the United States Sentencing Commission, an astonishing 75% of federal drug sentences in 2014 were attributed to illegal immigrants.

The facts truly do add up. Every day, Americans pay the price for drug cartels, gangs, and criminals who have crossed the border: just think of the total value of U.S. taxpayer dollars spent on legal proceedings and prison sentences alone, not to mention the direct loss of American lives and property.

But now back to the wall. At its core, the President’s wall is a practical plea to prioritize the needs and safety of American citizens, a physical manifestation of President Trump’s stance on immigration. The Trump administration believes that immigration is a privilege for foreigners, not a right. In the administration’s view, immigrants should be admitted to the country so long as they accept the laws and values of our country and, likewise, they should be rejected if they seek to endanger the lives and livelihoods of Americans. Pursuant to this view, the Trump administration plans to suspend funding for visas if screening cannot adequately address the issue of sanctuary cities, notorious centers of crime and violence. The idea is to prevent dangerous immigrants from roaming the country and using America’s welcoming laws as opportunities for criminal behavior.

Arguing that the wall is a symbol of racism is wholly unsubstantiated by the facts. Putting the American people first and flying the mast of nationalism is hardly a position in need of justification. Laws barring illegal immigration have existed for centuries and across cultures. Walk around the Old City of Jerusalem and see some of them for yourself; nations need protection for their borders. Of course, not every illegal immigrant is a drug dealer or gun-wielding murderer. But being illegal is still, well, illegal. It seems an unfair reality, but our national priority should be directed towards the well-being of American citizens.

The United States is a nation of immigrants—many of our own grandparents took refuge here after World War II. Undoubtedly, we welcome with open arms those seeking a better life, those willing to adopt our culture and contribute positively to our society. However, our priority must always be the safety and prosperity of our own citizens.

Stricter immigration laws vis-a-vis the border wall are necessary for a safer, stronger, and more prosperous America. As Americans, we invite catastrophe if we cannot protect our borders; countries across Europe have paid dearly for not protecting theirs. As far as the President’s claim that Mexico will pay for it, we’ll have to wait and see if he can live up to his word.