No, a wall will not stop the flow of illegal immigrants into America

So we’re going to have a wall on the border of Mexico.

Just accept that it’s going to happen, because unless Trump is somehow ejected from office, it will. That wall will be built. No, Mexico won’t pay for it, but we’ll have it all the same.

The thing is, it’s not going to serve its intended purpose. Trump says the wall is meant to do two things: stem the tide of illegal immigration and stop the flow of illegal drugs into the country. The problem is, it will do little to address either issue.


First, there is the matter of illegal immigration. We’ll get into why the boot-shaking fear of illegal immigrants he has been sowing (and his followers have been eating up like candy) is misguided in a future piece. For now, we’ll just touch on how those immigrants get here in the first place, and in doing so underscore why the wall will be a futile yet costly effort.

The big one is simple: between 40 to 50% of illegal immigrants actually come here LEGALLY on work visas. Roughly 40% is the most cited number. Some estimates suggest it’s closer to 50. Pew puts it at 45. In 2004, the General Accounting Office actually said the number could be as high as 57%. So, it’s a good-sized number. These people go through all the proper channels and are allowed in. They then overstay their time limit and don’t leave, in the process transforming from legal visitors here to work to illegal immigrants.

In other words, the wall would have ZERO IMPACT on close to half (or more) the illegal immigrants coming here.

Further, it’s estimated that between 1/4 to 1/3 of illegal immigrants arrive here by air, not land. A wall would be useless in keeping them out, too, for reasons I’d hope don’t need to be explained. (I’m trying to track down numbers on how many arrivals come by boat, but obviously whatever that figure is would also be unaffected by a wall. I suspect it’s a very small percentage.)

So, yeah … It may have a minor impact on people crossing from south of the border, assuming crossing efforts aren’t simply diverted to tunnels and boats — and they will be — but “minor” is the key word here.

Oh, and fun fact for the record: between 2009 and 2014, more Mexicans left the United States than came here. Mexican immigration is declining, according to the Pew Research Center, no help from a big, costly wall needed.

The other big purpose of the wall is to halt, or at least slow, the flow of illegal drugs into the country. This is a BIG topic, because it delves into the so-called War on Drugs. The War on Drugs is a failed war that simply cannot be won in the way we’ve gone about it, but with so much money at stake it’s a war we’re not likely to abandon any time soon.

But that’s another topic, a HUGE topic, and one I’m not equipped to dive into right now.

Instead, we’ll stick with the wall. Because of the scope of this topic, I’m going to keep this one brief.

cartoon by Tim Kelly,

One of Trump’s signature rallying cries in justifying his wall is that it will stem the tide of drugs flowing into the country. The problem is that all a wall serves to do is strengthen alternate drug trafficking methods that are already in place.

According to Rear Admiral Christopher Tomney, director of Joint Interagency Task Force South for the US Coast Guard, “drugs are moving on the water via container ships, non-commercial vessels, pleasure boats, sail boats, fishing boats.” Guess how good a wall would be in stopping boats?

Eric Feldman, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations, says when drugs come by land over the southern border, they often come via tunnel, an approach growing in frequency and complexity. Again, a wall would be useless here. A wall actually has the potential to make the situation worse by redirecting trafficking efforts to methods (such as tunnels) that are really difficult to discover and combat. Feldman indicated that between 2006 and 2015, his task force only managed to uncover a mere 11 such tunnels, despite knowing many more exist. He told the BBC, “The cartels are always looking for a guaranteed way to cross narcotics into the US, and a sophisticated tunnel can allow them to cross large-scale loads.”

Traffickers have fleets of aircraft, too — the notorious El Chapo had an amazing fleet of 600 aircraft, more than four times the number of the largest legitimate airline in Mexico — though this is an unlikely approach, as it’s pretty damn difficult to fly into U.S. airspace undetected.

Tunnels, though? Boats? Drug mules who can cross legally? Not to mention the huge amount of drugs that already cross the border with Canada or come in from Europe and Asia via our ports? The wall is useless for all of this.

The wall just isn’t the miracle cure Trump seems to think it is, and with the amount of money at stake in the drug trade, it simply encourages new ways for drugs to arrive here.

Besides, the plague of immigrants we supposedly need to cure ourselves of is largely a boogeyman, anyway. But that’s for tomorrow’s post …

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