By: Daniel Marulanda & James Agresti – stream.org – May 8, 2018
The border between the United States and Mexico stretches for 1,960 miles, parting two major regions of the world with vastly different governments, standards of living, and levels of crime. Consequently, many millions of people have risked their lives to illegally cross the border into the United States. During 2013 to 2015 alone, the U.S. Border Patrol recorded an average of 700,000 illegal entries per year along the U.S./Mexico border.
Additionally, roughly one million people per year legally immigrate to the U.S., 100 million per year legally visit the U.S., and more than 300,000 per year illegally overstay their visits, often never leaving.
People who illegally enter the U.S. avoid criminal background checks. As a result, they have much higher serious crime rates than legal immigrants and the general U.S. population. Highlighting the impact of this, a U.S. Government Accountability Office study of 249,000 non-citizens in U.S. prisons and jails during 2003 to 2009 found that they had been arrested for 2.9 million offenses committed within the U.S. — including 69,929 sex offenses and 25,064 homicides. Like most government data, this study did not isolate legal non-citizens from illegal ones, but given that legal immigrants have to undergo background checks, the vast bulk of these criminals were probably in the U.S. illegally.
Mexico is also the primary source of heroin in the United States, where at least 12,989 people died from heroin overdoses in 2015. The actual figure may be significantly higher, because the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that fatal heroin overdoses are “undercounted by as much as 30 percent” due to inconsistent reporting and difficulties associated with determining the presence of heroin in the bodies of the deceased.
Throughout Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, he repeatedly promised to reduce drug trafficking and violent crimes by illegal immigrants by securing the southern border. His primary idea — to build a wall along much of the border — became his signature pledge. When questioned during a primary debate about whether this plan was realistic, Trump stated, “They built the Great Wall of China. That’s 13,000 miles. Here, we actually only need 1,000 because we have natural barriers.”
However, prominent Democrats have repeatedly lambasted Trump’s plan as antiquated and worthless. For example:
- Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer stated, “A wall can be tunneled under. I’m sure those who love the wall have heard of shovels. It’s a medieval solution for a modern problem.”
- House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote, “Make no mistake: the President said he will purposefully hurt American communities to force American taxpayers to fund an immoral, ineffective and expensive border wall.”
- Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin stated, “Dreamers should not be held hostage to President Trump’s crusade to tear families apart and waste billions of American tax dollars on an ineffective wall.”
- Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote, “Instead of wasting scarce resources on a wall that will be ineffective, we should focus on real solutions.”
Analyzed objectively, those arguments do not stand up to scrutiny.
Far from being relics of a distant age, a wide variety of nations have built, fortified, or expanded border barriers since 2010. This includes Austria, Kenya, Jordan, Spain, Greece, Norway, Slovenia, Macedonia, Gibraltar, Myanmar, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Oman, Algeria, Ukraine, Tunisia, Hungary and Morocco.
Contrary to arguments that border barriers are ineffective if people ever climb over them, tunnel beneath them, or go around them, the purpose of such barriers is not to stop all illegal cross-border activities — but to stem the tide of them. Per a 2017 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office:
- “According to Border Patrol officials, pedestrian fencing is intended to divert illegal entrants — which include migrants and criminal organizations that engage in illicit cross-border activities — to areas of the border where agents can … interdict illicit cross-border activities more effectively.”
- “In addition to diverting illicit cross-border activities into more rural and remote environments, pedestrian fencing is intended to serve as a physical barrier that impedes and slows the progress of illegal entrants who attempt to cross the border, and in doing so, provides Border Patrol agents assigned to these areas additional time and opportunities to execute their METs [Mission Essential Tasks], which include detecting, responding, and resolving illicit cross-border activities.
The same report documents that border barriers seem to be effective in accomplishing those goals. Citing Border Patrol officials, the report states that:
- after replacing old fencing with modern pedestrian fencing near Nogales, Arizona, assaults on Border Patrol agents fell from 376 in 2010/2011 to 71 in 2012/2013, “a decline of 81 percent.”
- new pedestrian fencing in urban regions of El Paso, Texas, “has assisted in improving agents’ ability to execute their METs, resulting in higher apprehension rates in these areas.”
- after vehicle fencing near Tucson, Arizona was installed to reduce “large amounts of illegal narcotics transported by motorized vehicles,” “drive throughs dropped by an average of 73 percent.”
While those reductions in illegal activity are substantial, it is important to realize that association does not prove causation — and these declines may have been caused by factors other than the fencing, such as increased border patrols or fluctuating immigration levels. However, as documented below, similar reductions in cross-border crimes have occurred in other nations that have deployed border barriers, and several facts indicate that the barriers were a primary cause of these reductions.
In 2015, hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa were illegally entering Hungary to seek asylum in Western Europe. In response, the Hungarian government constructed a barbed wire fence along its border with Croatia. Hungary completed the fence and closed this border to illegal migration on October 16, 2015. Within two days — according to data from the Hungarian national police — migrant captures, which is a proxy for arrivals, declined by more than 99% and stayed at this level through the rest of the year:
The timing and abruptness of this decline suggest that the fence played a major role in it.
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