Some of the people who organize church “mission” trips to impoverished countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador for the purpose of supplying aid to people who are desperately in need are the same people screaming, “BUILD THAT WALL!”
Many proponents of the wall gleefully and without concern for accountability donate money to a random GoFundMe account supposedly dedicated to building the wall. There is an astonishing amount of cognitive dissonance that would allow proponents to go on mission trips to Central America, pat themselves on the back for their work, and feign compassion for the same people who they refuse to allow entrance into this country to obtain a better life.
This article offers a plausible explanation for this phenomenon and an in-depth analysis of how a wall that does not yet exist can still divide the country.
The Wall is Symbolic
The wall is symbolic of the sociopolitical discourse that permeates our society and leaves a nasty stain on the fabric of our national conscience. It has metaphorically become the edifice upon which our nation’s deeply rooted racism and bigotry stands, a monument to Trump, a gleaming condonation of privilege, and a visible display of pervasive religious hypocrisy. For its proponents, the wall doesn’t just span the Mexican border. It extends to the depths their hearts and across the farthest reaches of their minds. Many proponents have become indoctrinated or some may argue brainwashed by the 24-hour conservative news cycle’s spin on topics related to immigration. The conservative media’s rhetoric is often saturated with racial dog whistles, racist stereotypes, and blatant lies about undocumented immigrants that are repeated vociferously until they are accepted by their audience as truth. The media’s fear driven propaganda campaign of mischaracterizations, misinformation, and verifiably false claims about undocumented immigrants and illegal border crossings is so insidious that when introduced to any semblance of research based facts that challenge the confirmation biases of proponents of the wall, those facts are immediately rejected by proponents as “fake news.”
The Justification is Flawed
Proponents of the wall, including many Republican elected officials, use baseless and meritless justifications that are not grounded in reality or truth for wasting tax dollars on building a wall. “We are a country of laws. I don’t have a problem with immigrants. I just want them to come here legally.” This seems to be the most commonly used justification for acceptance of the egregiously erroneous policies implemented under Trump’s administration.
The most infamous of those policies was an executive order signed by the president and backed by the former U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions which required that all immigrants who reach the southern border be detained and held for a pending court date. This caused children, some as young as infants, to be separated from their parents and detained in fenced cages. It wasn’t until much criticism from organizations, the public, and many within the president’s own party that Trump reluctantly withdrew the order. Undocumented immigrants who are seeking to enter the country have a constitutional right to due process. According to Supreme Court findings, anyone on United States soil is protected by a constitutional right to due process, even if they illegally entered the country. They also have a constitutional right to enter this country via the ports of entry to request asylum. If the courts rule that the immigrant should be deported, they have a right to appeal. Nevertheless, it seems that proponents of the wall wish to ignore our country’s laws that protect the constitutional rights of undocumented immigrants when those laws work in contradiction to the proponent’s deeply rooted biases or prejudices. The laws that protect undocumented immigrants are a source of contention for many who advocate for a wall as a means to end immigration through our southern borders and to keep Mexican and Central American immigrants out of the country.
Fact Check: The Truth About Immigration
The numbers are declining.
The data collected by nonpartisan organizations such as the U.S. Census Bureau, governmental agencies such as the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, and nongovernmental agencies such as the Center for Migration Studies and Migration Policy Institute, indicates that illegal immigration across the border is at a 49 year low. According to the data, unauthorized immigration across our borders is down 46% between 2002 and 2017. The number of undocumented immigrants entering the country from Mexico was on a decline two years prior to former President Obama’s election. They declined every year of Obama’s entire eight-year term and they continue to decline.
The Truth About Immigrants
Many proponents of the wall believe the claims that are incessantly made and debunked by President Trump, often via Twitter, that thousands of immigrants are illegally crossing our borders daily and that hordes of immigrants are “invading” our country at the southern border to take away American jobs, drain tax dollars from our economy, and get on governmental assistance all while bringing with them crime, drugs, gangs, and disease. However, this claim is not supported by the data. In fact, the data collected in a report conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants actually enter the country legally via work visas and overstay their visas. The vast majority (approx. 90%) of people who come to this country with visas and overstay come from countries other than Mexico and those in Central America. The report also reveals that the “typical unauthorized immigrant living in the U.S. has lived here for nearly 15 years.” Most of the children who are living with undocumented immigrants in this country were born here.
Undocumented Immigrants Work and are Disqualified for Assistance
According to data collected by the Pew Center,8 million immigrants who are in the country illegally have jobs, some 72% of all undocumented immigrants. Many undocumented immigrants fill jobs in areas of agriculture, construction, and hospitality. Due to their status, undocumented immigrants are ineligible for apply for governmentally subsidized healthcare, food assistance, or cash assistance programs. However, for many, even if they could apply for assistance, they’d be ineligible on the basis of their income.
There is also a conflation of governmental assistance to undocumented immigrants and immigrants with legal status. Immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally do not qualify for most federal benefits, including social security, even when they’re paying taxes, and those with legal status make up a small portion of those who use public benefits.
Undocumented Immigrants and Crime
Much of the rhetoric about crime committed by undocumented immigrants coming from Trump’s administration, conservative media outlets, and elected Republican officials asserts that the presence of undocumented immigrants would increase crime. However, the data does not support this claim. Researchers maintain that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crime than their native born counterparts.
According to a report the Pew Research Center, there are approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country. They represent approximately 4% of the total population. A study conducted by the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank, utilized crime statistics in Texas to complete a case study on criminal convictions and arrests rates per capita between undocumented immigrants, legal immigrants, and native born Americans. Analysis of the study found that criminal convictions and arrest rates of undocumented immigrants we’re approximately half of those born in America. A recent study published in the journal Criminology found that “Increases in the undocumented immigrant population within states are associated with significant decreases in the prevalence of violence.” An analysis of the findings of the study which utilized data from official crime statistics over a 14 year span (1990-2014), suggested that undocumented immigration was associated with a decrease in violent crime.
The Real Problem Requires a Real Solution
Ever sense Pres. Trump made building a wall at the southern border a central focus of his campaign, the political wrangling and fear mongering from the conservative media outlets has crescendoed to a fever pitch with both sides of the issues seeking to make their argument loud enough to drown out the other.
However, it could be plausible that both sides make valid points in this ongoing debate about what methods are needed to secure our borders. What’s clear is that both sides agree that border security is a major priority and must be adequately addressed. While in theory building a 2000 mile long structure with an over $21 billion price tag seems logical on its surface, it may not be the most effective means of addressing the issue of illegal immigration into the country.
One of the largest issues at the border seems to allude the mainstream debate. Immigrants who arrive at the ports of entry requesting asylum may be faced with significant delays to recieving a court hearing. Courts are faced with a backlog of cases awaiting to be heard. An immigrant could wait for months or even years to have their request for asylum considered. While many suggestions have been made to address this issue, leading legal experts and border enforcement agencies recommend a variety of possible solutions to effectively address the backlog. The Dept. of Justice should streamline the process for hiring additional judges and create stringent guidelines that ensure that the selection process for immigration is nonpartisan and fair. Organizations that monitor complaints filed against judges should recommend performance guidelines that promote and maintain consistency amongst rulings between new and existing judges. Some of the awaiting cases can be expedited without a hearing before a judge as a result of “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” an executive order signed by Trump giving the DHS Secretary the authority to expedite the removal proceedings of undocumented immigrants who can’t prove that they’ve been in the country for longer than two years or that they face a verifiable fear of persecution. This expedited process would be arbitrated and enforced by immigration officers. U.S. policymakers and immigration agencies could work in tandem reduce the caseload by creating policies that result in a shorter path to legal status. In lieu of building an actual wall border patrol agents recommend reinforcing existing structures and fencing. They have also suggested that technological improvements can be incor to assist agents with better detection and enforcement.
Based upon the data, none of the major challenges faced by immigration officials or undocumented immigrants can be adequately addressed by a border wall. In hindsight, considering the options suggested by immigration and border protection enforcement, building a wall is reduced to a partisan campaign promise that is a counterintuitive and incrementalistic approach to immigration that does not begin to address the issue.
Antoine Pierce is an author and President of the Better Boys Initiative in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.