Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Arguing Against a Wall

Jonah Goldberg endorses the idea of a wall between the USA and Mexico. He ignores the important question though: will it work? It's funny that he perceives wall opponents as being disingenuous, but what evidence does he offer that the wall will 'work?' He assumes it:

It's funny, even the most liberal advocates of “comprehensive” immigration reform — Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, et al. — insist they're for “securing the border” in principle. It just seems they oppose it in practice. They may start by arguing that it can't be done, but when it is demonstrated that it can be done — somehow, putting men on the moon can't really be easier than something even poor nations do every day — they quickly fall back to the only argument that has any traction: symbolism.

Jonah also talks about opposition to the wall here. He notes that few people oppose the wall based on anything other than symbolism. On that, I can't disagree. I don't see any arguments being made that the wall won't work. So I will go ahead and make one:

It's currently estimated that 40% of the illegal immigrant population (4-5 million people) entered the US on a visa and overstayed (check here and here, for example). If you were to build a wall, you would continue to have a flow of illegal immigrants from visa overstays. All things being equal, these would tend to increase - as would-be illegal immigrants would now try to come here on visas. You'd also continue to have some flow of illegals who enter via tunnels and boats, as well as illegal crossings from Canada.

On that last point, it's currently easy to visit Canada from Mexico. You need a Mexican passport, a return ticket, a firm itinerary while in Canada, and proof of $100/day spending money during your stay, or a statement from a Canadian sponsor that he or she will pay your bills. You do not need a visa. (It's all here, in Spanish). Once in Canada, the only thing between you and the US is the world's longest undefended border. So if the wall is built and is effective, there will have to be tougher rules for Mexican citizens to visit Canada.

Of course, this assumes that there remains a job lure for illegals. But I don't see why there would not be one. As others have pointed out, if you have a totally-secure 'guestworker' card, you'll only force illegal workers to get forged documents indicating that they're citizens. And how hard is that?

All this is merely to point out that wall or not, if illegal workers continue to be lured by the offer of work, there are still ways to get here. You have to consider all of them. Will fewer immigrants come if we build a wall? Probably. Will Americans be satisfied if we manage to reduce the annual flow to just a few hundred thousand? Well... I'm not the one running for office.

Pick your movie quote for my argument: 'follow the money,' or 'life finds a way.'

Update: Welcome Corner readers, and thanks, Jonah, for the traffic. While you're here, look around, or check out something else that Jonah would be interested in.


Matthew Schiros said...

Nobody explains why the wall would work for one simple reason: walls have _always_ worked. It worked in Berlin, it's currently working in Israel, and it would work here as well. That it wouldn't solve 100% of the problem is not an indictment of walls, but an argument for _additional_ enforcement. Walls would also stop the abuse of the birthright citizenship to an extent, since pregnant Mexicans couldn't cross the border for 12 hours when giving birth to get a free ride to the States in 18 years.

Is it a perfect solution? No, of course it's not. Yes, people could circumvent it, but that's kind of a non-argument, since people can circumvent any preventative measure, given enough time. It will help, though, and it will be a symbolic step in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

You make some good points, but they are refutable.

The illegals who come across the Southern border tend to be the ones who cannot afford other means of travel, or can't otherwise get a Visa. The argument that some would find a different way to break the law is not a counter argument for building a wall.

Of course someone can travel from Mexico to Canada, but you are presuming that the person has the money to purchase a round-trip ticket, and can get a passport. While I am sure that some can, they are the same ones who can get a Visa and come directly to the US, so you really aren't cutting into that 40% number. That, and if someone has a sponsor in Canada, wouldn't it be more logical that the person remains in Canada?

The whole point is reduction in flow of illegals into the United States, no one is arguing that the flow will cease entirely.

Dave said...

It's currently estimated that 40% of the illegal immigrant population (4-5 million people) entered the US on a visa and overstayed (check here and here, for example). If you were to build a wall, you would continue to have a flow of illegal immigrants from visa overstays. All things being equal, these would tend to increase - as would-be illegal immigrants would now try to come here on visas. You'd also continue to have some flow of illegals who enter via tunnels and boats, as well as illegal crossings from Canada.

This is a good argument for limiting the number of visas that are given out in the first place. There are over 70 of them. That's just ridiculous.

If we cut off the border influx while limiting other means of immigration, the flow will become more manageable. Right now, it just isn't manageable.

MikeD said...

Your piece makes me even more fond of a wall. If it pushes the illegals through Canada, that will act as a filter to a certain extent. Some of the riff-raff will just stay up there to enjoy the generous Canadian safety net. Second, funneling a significant amount of Spanish-speakers into Canada, over-time, will exacerbate ethnic tensions, speed the eventual break-up of Canada, and accelerate out eventual absorption of our northern neighbors. Third, forcing Mexicans to come in from the northern border will spread them around the USA into areas they usually don't reach in high numbers, thereby accelerating their assimilation and slowing the transformation of the American southwest into the Alsace-Lorraine of North America.

Anonymous said...

Wall or no wall, too many people are missing this point, or are reluctant to address it: It's not quantity, but quality. If the millions of illegals were predominantly skilled workers, or even highly educated potential skilled workers, this so-called crisis would not exist. There is an enormous capacity in this economy to absorb skilled workers who immediately become net contributors to the society. This whole debate is about welfare, about shifting the burden of supporting a permanent poor underclass that's a net loss from a corrupt and failing Mexican government to the American taxpayer. Anything else is a smokescreen and a canard.

The Editor at IP said...

Thanks for all the comments.

We may be arguing semantics, but I'd say that walls don't work if you can get through them or around them. The walls the US has built along the border haven't 'worked;' they've pushed people to cross in other places. As long as there are ways around the wall, people will try them. Even if the wall reduces illegal immigration dramatically, you'll still have hundreds of thousands coming annually.

My point is that if you believe that illegal immigration is a big problem NOW, it will probably still BE a big problem with a wall. UNLESS you have effective employer sanctions, and perhaps some other measures. And if you have those, the wall is almost secondary.

As for Mexicans going to Canada, a plane ticket right now costs $600-$800 (I believe that coyotes or polleros charge more than that). Any Mexican can get a passport. And a 'Canadian sponsor' is only a name on a piece of paper. If he's a criminal - or someone that knows you're only coming to head to the US - it'll be easy for illegal immigrants to get the needed paperwork.


Anonymous said...


Actually, as a Canadian, I look with great amusement on the gradual transformation of the United States into a bilingual, bicultural nation. Just wait until all your federal political leaders and your bureaucrats are expected to be fluent in both languages; hispanic groups insist on equality with anglophone groups in national affairs; and of course the inevitable secessionist movement as border states call for closer ties to Mexico.

It's fun, trust me.


Anonymous said...

If visa overstays are a problem, that's easy enough to deal with. Require anyone who wants a visa to post a $2000 bond as part of the application. Bond should be refunded fully when the tourist leaves as scheduled, or otherwise if he is detained for a good reason (health, etc.). If he fails to leave on time, part or all of the bond will be forfeit.

This will cut out the most economically marginal tourists. It should also significantly cut down on economic refugees, such as the sort of people who are currently entering illegally via the Mexican border.

And if $2000 doesn't cut down enough on the overstays, jack it up to $5000.

MikeD said...


Don't think of yourself as Canadian, just think of yourself a as a future citizen of Greater America. :-)

- Mike

Mike D said...


Sorry dude, but you're way off base. "Even if the wall reduces illegal immigration dramatically... " Reducing illegal immigration dramatically qualifies as the wall working. It is certainly not a stand-alone answer to the problem. It's a necessary element of any effort to end illegal immigration from the south, along with penalties for employers who break the law, sanctions for govt officials who refuse to enforce the law, and a more reasonable ceiling for legal immigration.

And, if the wall proves to be too leaky, we can always back it up with bouncing betties.

Scotty said...

I fancy myself a pragmatist and find the wall unworkable. I'll pick the movie quote: 'life finds a way'. Remember the continental 48 has a ~6000 mile land boarder and interestingly nearly a 6000 mile coastline. Dear wall builders---It won't work. (assuming we don't want to spend $Billions in taxes. A bill I don't personally want to foot.)

To matthew schiros: walls work when the total mileage covered is very small and every mile can be watched by humans.

Nightfire said...

Walls would work to create what the military calls a "golden road" - they simply channel people to where you want them. Makes them much easier to watch and catch and you can have electronic and other "eyes" on the barriers.

Anonymous said...

Watch "Penn & Tellers BullShit" The one on imagration. Just give me a pare of shear cutters and 5 minutes. By the way, the "Great wall of China" didn't work.