The Immigration Question

Politico’s Bill Scher summarizes the basics of the debate over Trump’s wall succinctly in a piece at RealClearPolitics:

Those who are eager for both sides to compromise, like center-right New York Times columnist David Brooks, describe “a wall for DACA” as an “obvious deal” that only doesn’t happen because of “a massive leadership vacuum in Washington.” But it’s not because of a lack of leadership. It’s because the two camps have opposite views on immigration itself.

The Democratic opposition to a complete wall or barrier, running the entire length of the southern border, is not strictly because it would be “ineffective,” but because of the desired effect: to send a stark message that immigrants from Mexico and Central America are not welcome here (unlike immigrants from Canada, where a border wall has not been proposed). Democrats do not want to send that message.

And they don’t need to. The “Dreamers” who get work permits through the DACA program are not facing imminent deportation, thanks to court rulings that have indefinitely shelved Trump’s attempt to scrap the program. Democrats, in turn, feel no urgency to make concessions to codify DACA. They can still play for time.

A wealth of polling indicates that most Americans view immigration positively. In a September NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 61 percent of respondents said immigration “helps the United States more than it hurts.” And Trump didn’t help the Republicans keep the House by campaigning on “the caravan” in the run-up to the midterms. So you can see why Trump may not want to advertise what he’s doing to clamp down on legal immigration, and have “the wall” then be viewed as part of that restrictionist strategy.

However, while Trump’s hard-line immigration rhetoric didn’t help Republicans, the Democrats who flipped red districts didn’t spend much time talking about immigration at all. They felt voters wanted to hear more about issues that directly impact their pocketbook, like health care. Today, Democrats may feel politically safe opposing the wall, but not every Democrat may want to fully engage Trump on the larger question of how welcoming our immigration policies should be. Therefore, Democratic leaders tend to emphasize a less polarizing, more pragmatic message about effective border security.

But if we are to ever achieve comprehensive immigration reform, at some point we will need a real debate about what kind of immigration system we want: Do we want to make it easy to come to America, or do we want to make it hard?

I have made no secret of my views. Immigration to the United States should be hard. We should emulate the policies of the countries we most closely resemble, e.g. Canada and Australia, impose substantial requirements on prospective immigrants, and enforce them.

It isn’t the 1880s. Wages for unskilled workers have been declining for decades. Wages for tech workers, those admitted under H1-B visas, have been flat for at least a decade. The instances of native-born workers being forced to train their immigrant replacements are too numerous simply to be dismissed. Whatever purpose immigration served in the past today it serves primarily to keep wages low and afford American companies the luxury of not automating.

Higher education is no solution to the employment problem in the U. S., at this point largely a problem of underemployment, for the simple reason that it is not applicable to between half and two-thirds of the U. S. population who do not thrive in colleges and universities.

A tighter immigration system would allow wages to rise in the U. S. and change the areas that U. S. businesses engage in towards what we can do effectively rather than trying to compete with the low wages that prevail in Asian countries. In my opinion if you favor making immigration to the U. S. easy, you have a moral obligation to do something about the workers that will be displaced or whose wages will be kept low that extends beyond rhetoric.

9 comments… add one
  • Gray Shambler Link

    If you like your local culture, you might be ethnocentric, and therefore Nazi ,an Imperialist, or even a Terrorist.
    I hope Trump never budges an inch on this border security issue.
    I love Mexican food, but have a visceral hate for Methamphetamine.

  • steve Link

    Shouldn’t we start with what goals we want to achieve? (Basic management.) A wall won’t do much of anything to stop drugs coming across as they come across at legal entry points and in the mail. Terrorists just fly here. There really arent confirmed terrorists trying to cross. Why walk across the desert when you can fly? Even the cheap seats still have air conditioning.

    Walls make sense in heavily populated areas, and those have them. In unpopulated areas? Remember back to the obstacle courses in boot camp? Only takes a few seconds to climb a wall. You need patrols to catch people. You need ways to spot them. So while a wall might make a difference at the margins, it doesn’t make sense that it would have a big impact without increased patrols and/or a better way to see people crossing. Seems like there would be more yield hiring more patrols or investing in tech. AND, that doesn’t even address the single largest source of illegals here, people staying past their visa times.

    The wall uniquely answers a political need, but otherwise doesn’t address major problems. However, as I said earlier, if we need to pay for a wall in order to also have solutions that might actually do something, I think I can live with that.


  • Gray Shambler Link

    A wall won’t do much of anything to stop drugs coming across as they come across at legal entry points and in the mail.
    Yes, drugs come in spare tires, gas tanks, and sometimes in the mail.
    But if we can concentrate entry points, we can focus interdiction and raise the costs for cartels. I’d prefer to reduce demand, but so far all efforts in that direction seem to be a pipe dream.
    A physical wall will always be a partial solution, but an extremely visible one that will allow border patrol agents more time to focus on gas tanks, tunnels, and the mail.
    It also tells Mexican politicians It’s not business as usual and that the USA is serious about interdiction. Then maybe they’ll get serious about reform instead of letting Mexico be a fourth world country no one dares visit anymore.

  • TastyBits Link

    As @Drew pointed out some time back, people have a problem with the wall because it will work.

    The anti-wall crowd keeps complaining about the lack of security at the legal points-of-entry, but they have no intention of fixing the problem. I suspect that the pro-wall crowd would want to fix that problem, also.

    The tunnels dug by the drug cartels are not cheap, and I doubt that they want thousands of people (potential snitches) knowing where the tunnels are. As to ladders, they need to be light enough to transport and strong enough to not collapse. As to walls being effective, there are a lot of US citizens who agree as long as the walls surround their neighborhood.

    Build a wall on the southern border. Build a wall on the northern border. Track anybody entering the US legally. Tighten security for the potential illegal entrants, and use e-verify and SS to reduce employment opportunities. Problem mostly solved.

    Once illegal entry is decreased, something can be done with and for the Dreamers and others, and at that point, most opposition to normalizing the existing illegals will evaporate. (I am sure that Ann Coulter will be whining, but she is trying to sell books.)

  • PD Shaw Link

    I thought this Brian York piece on what the administration is doing on the border was helpful since I haven’t been following that closely. Introduction:

    “One remarkable feature of the debate over the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border is how little some commentators seem to know about what the Trump administration is doing. Pundits regularly get facts wrong. Talking heads engage in passionate arguments over dubious premises. Confusion reigns.”

  • steve Link

    “people have a problem with the wall because it will work.”

    Just told you why it won’t make that much difference. Please explain how 3 seconds of deterrence makes a big difference.


  • Thank you, PD. I found the piece very informative. I think that Mr. York has one doubtful premise and one questionable assumption. The doubtful premise is that a fence, barrier, or whatever you choose to call it will be as effective out in the middle of nowhere as it would be separating San Diego from Tijuana. It might have some effect but (as TastyBits intimates above) only as part of a more complete solution.

    The questionable assumption is that the wall/barrier/fence is actually at issue at all. I think that what’s at issue is Trump fulfilling a campaign promise.

  • TastyBits Link


    Please explain how it will not work.

    The border is not some magical place where the laws of physics do not apply. Depending upon the height, ladders to get over the wall have the same problems as firetruck ladders – physics.

    Scaling a wall is not easy, and again, it is dependant upon the height. A group of rock climbers might be able to do it, but I am fairly certain that most people will not.

    Unless you think somebody is running up to the wall with a shovel and digging a tunnel, they have multiple problems. They need to be deep enough to evade detection. They need to have concealed entry and exit points, and these are often in a building. The tunnel needs to be supported from collapse, and they need ventilation to keep from a CO2 buildup. Lights and a railway system would be nice but not mandatory.

    Tunnels take time and money, and the fewer people who know about it lowers the chance it will be discovered.

    Furthermore, physical barriers (walls, fences, concertina wire, landmines, etc.) are used to channel people where you want them. This is Military Tactics 101.

    The best thing about a physical barrier is that it will be in-place for some time after President Trump is gone. It could be torn down, and Obamacare could be repealed. But, I am not going to hold my breath waiting for either.

    The Democrats did not have a problem wasting almost $800 billion dollars on infrastructure to “save or create jobs”, but $5 billion dollars is going to break the bank.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I mainly thought the numbers were useful; I’m seeing arguments premised on the entire border, instead of relatively small stretches, almost one-third of which already had some sort of barrier that was ineffective or dilapidated. I don’t disagree with the likelihood of diminishing returns, but the areas involved are closer to the coasts.

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