The control of who can enter a country is a commonly used population policy tool, with a cornerstone of Trump’s election campaign being the promise to build a wall along the US-Mexico border to stop undocumented border crossings. But will it work and is it needed? Let’s take a look at the facts:
- The US has long dealt with immigration from Mexico. For years, much of the movement between Mexico and the US was circular, with immigrants entering the US to work, but then returning home. Increased border security has meant that many do not attempt the return to Mexico, and instead stay in the US. Later family reunification or formation occurs.
- With declining fertility levels in Mexico and fewer economic reasons for young adults to seek employment in the US, the net number of undocumented Mexicans in the US has largely stabilized at about 11 million, following a peak of 12 million in 2008 (PEW 2016).
- In recent years, the number of Mexicans apprehended along the border has declined. Although they continue to represent the single greatest number of apprehensions, large numbers of Hondurans, El Salvadorans, and Guatemalans are also apprehended along the border (DHS 2015). That is, Mexico is only one source of undocumented immigration from Central America.
- The US already heavily spends on controlling the border. Walls already exist in many of the most traveled sectors (such as San Diego and Tijuana). Border Patrol agents, motion detectors, aerial surveillance and cameras have created a defacto wall along the entire border. Even with a new wall built the length of the border, these enforcement expenses will remain.
- Immigration policy, whether in the US or elsewhere, has been littered with attempts to curtail immigration. The wall will slow arrivals, but there will always be other ways to enter the country: individuals will find new routes in. History and other recent examples demonstrate this.
So, will the wall work? Is it needed? Not really. Billions of dollars will be spent on a project that will attempt to solve the problem of undocumented Mexican immigration that doesn’t really exist. Ultimately, it will likely be the American public that pays for Trump’s wall.
PEW Research. 2016. 5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/03/5-facts-about-illegal-immigration-in-the-u-s/
Department of Homeland Security. 2015 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Office of Immigration Statistics.
Douglas Massey. 2015. Donald Trump’s Mexican Border Wall Is a Moronic Idea. Foreign Policy. Available at: http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/08/18/donald-trump-immigration-border/
Photo source: US Customs and Border Protection, https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/photo-gallery