On October 4, 2023, the Biden administration announced that it would waive 26 laws to continue construction and reinforcement of 20 miles of fencing between the United States/Mexico border. This is the first time the border wall has been seriously discussed since President Biden took office nearly three years ago. Even when announcing construction would continue, the President did not seem confident in its effectiveness. When asked whether he thought it would work he simply answered “No.” Yet work persists even though continuing the construction of the border wall is a futile, expensive exercise that infringes on American’s property rights and unnecessarily raises tensions with the United States’ second-largest trading partner.
Of course, this construction does not exist in a time vacuum; former President Donald Trump built roughly 455 miles of border fencing during his term. According to ProPublica and the Texas Tribune, the Trump administration spent more than $10 billion on the wall and, of course, Mexico did not financially contribute to the effort. As much of that construction replaced older barriers and fencing, it initially made the fence harder to traverse. Made of steel slats, the new border wall is much taller than what it replaced. Despite the new design, there were new bad results. 300,000 more apprehensions occurred at the border between 2017 and 2020 than there were in the previous four years. 2019 saw the highest spike in over a decade. Southern border apprehensions since 2021 have skyrocketed to levels not seen in several decades. All of this should be proof positive that any border wall does not work and future attempts to continue or “finish” will just be a further waste of taxpayer money.
This type of action also encourages faithlessness in the American creed of freedom. In recent months, my home state of Texas has deployed buoys equipped with razor blades into the Rio Grande River to deter further migration. Governor Abbott has also ordered razor wire placed along the Texas side of that river. He even violated private property rights in his political gambit, angering many property owners who decry the wire as a safety hazard to people, to animals, as well as a general eyesore that lessens property value.
Despite this repetition of big government trespass on personal liberty, these actions don’t do much to deter migrants seeking freedom. Several weeks ago a viral video showed a mother using cardboard to lift the razor wire so she and her baby could pass under that barrier. Many Americans simply cannot fathom the poverty, violence, and hopelessness these people flee. Imagine you and your loved ones walking thousands of miles through forests, mountains, and deserts; imagine negotiating mortal threats from the elements, wild animals, and human smugglers known as “coyotes”— all for the possibility of a better life. What would it take for you to even consider such a journey? And if you did make it to the end of the journey, would you let a border wall, razor wire, or floating death machine stop you? Probably not.
Essentially, the only way to deter people from coming across the border is to create cruel and unusual punishment for doing so. Put another way, the same spirit and yearning for freedom that is the heartbeat of our American creed likewise propels migrants to overcome harrowing odds to breathe freely. Yet some Americans ignore reality and attempt to create conditions for migrants worse than the conditions they flee. In the last year, several GOP Presidential candidates have voiced support for shooting migrants and/or launching military strikes into Mexico. This would be a folly of unrivaled magnitude in modern American history. Luckily, most freedom-loving Americans rightfully oppose such violence aimed at people peacefully coming here for a better life. Despite the recent chaos at the United States/Mexico border, a recent Gallup Poll found that nearly 70% of Americans view immigration as a benefit to our nation.
So, the question now becomes what should be done about the current border crisis? For starters, we must recognize that immigration does not directly affect most Americans. To the extent that it does affect Americans, the impact is more positive than negative given the ability of immigration to increase the fiscal sustainability of the U.S. economy and lessen the tax burden on United States citizens. What I believe concerns Americans most about the border is not the threat of immigration but rather the chaos associated with it. Alex Nowrasteh, VP of Economic and Social Policy at the Cato Institute has described this phenomenon as an example of the “chaos threat” in action. Essentially, the chaotic situation caused by the proliferation of images of hundreds of migrants crossing the border, of children put in danger, and of crowded migrant facilities creates a perception of lawlessness and disorder. As someone who currently lives in South Texas about 3 miles from the Mexican border as the crow flies, I can attest this notion of chaos is simply untrue. In fact, according to FBI crime statistics, three cities along the border are among the safest in Texas. If you go to the bus station in Brownsville where many migrants are waiting to be sent to other cities throughout the country, you will see people waiting for their buses, or people patronizing the convenience store or restaurants across the street. If you didn’t know better, you’d think they were everyday citizens contributing to the economy like everyone else.
Given this reality, I believe the answer is to provide these people with a realistic path to citizenship that includes guest worker permits, responsible assistance for those seeking asylum, and less false and fear-encouraging information about immigrants shared in our public sphere. Allowing migrants the chance for full participation in the American economy will enable the nation to make use of these migrants’ skills and talents; this will bring more freedom-seeking people out of the shadows, making for more prosperous and safe American communities. We’re already spending billions on deterrence, law enforcement, and detainment of peaceful people; instead, we should look to spend less and gain more by allowing migrants to contribute and fulfill their American dream.
This piece solely expresses the opinions of the author, and not necessarily the Classical Liberal Caucus as a whole.
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