Why the Wall?

Let’s talk about the wall.

This article is written to accompany a fantastic article just written by my friend and colleague, Ben Sweetwood, which masterfully sifts through the hysteria over President Trump’s recent executive order on immigration. Here at Griffwood Post, we constantly seek to challenge the prevailing narrative of the day. We live by an important motto: if everyone seems to be in agreement about something, be skeptical.

Everyone, and I mean everyone seems to have a problem with President Trump’s idea of building a wall along the border shared between the United States and Mexico. This includes those who are left, right, libertarian, and everyone else in between. Some of the consternation has produced perfectly valid criticisms of the idea that should not be overlooked. But I write to contend that the idea to build the wall actually has its merits.

Those on the right, and those who abhor government spending, criticize the wall for its cost and complexity. The wall will indeed be expensive—and the proposed methodology of taxing a portion of the U.S.-Mexican trade deficit does eventually pass the cost of the wall on to the consumer. However, in context, the tax does have implicit benefits to the American consumer beyond the wall. The trade deficit exists because the U.S. exports to Mexico about $60 billion dollars in goods less than it imports from Mexico. However, the entirety of the U.S.’s annual imports from Mexico total around $300 billion. Now, 20 percent of $300 billion is enough to pay for three walls at Trump’s price-point of around $20 billion per year. So the cost, in context, is not outlandish. This is not to mention the benefit of protecting and encouraging American industries that directly compete with Mexican products. And if there is any American president who can spur the behemoth of the federal government to actually build something on time and under budget, it’s going to be Donald J. Trump.

But $20 billion is still $20 billion. That’s a costly project.

Another valid criticism is the complexity of building the wall. The Cato Institute has done a great job of illustrating just how complicated the process will be. Building a wall along this 2,000 mile stretch of the American southwest means overcoming geographical challenges, replacing existing walls and fences, equipping the wall with proper surveillance equipment and, of course, maintaining it. This is not to mention the inevitably long amount of time it will take the federal government to argue the hundreds if not thousands of eminent domain cases that will be necessary to gather the lands needed for the construction of the wall (much of the land abutting the U.S.-Mexican border is privately owned.) The wall may not be feasibly possible in Trump’s term.

But just because something is complex doesn’t mean it’s impossible[1]. We got to the moon, we can build a big wall.

And, yes, I’ve heard the argument that many if not most illegal immigrants come into the country by airplane, on lawful visas, and extend their stay indefinitely. Obviously, a comprehensive immigration reform package would need to address that. But the cartels, the drug runners, and criminals fleeing Latin America are not buying group ticket packages on commercial airliners. They’re the ones taking advantage of the porous border, and they’re certainly the ones we want to stop first.

I give criticisms from the left credence as well, but they are becoming a bit too ‘one-sized fits all’ to have retained their bite. I also abhor identity-politics and think the hysteria around Donald Trump is contributing to a dangerous narrowing of political discourse.

I get the argument about the signal a wall sends, I really do. The walls in apartheid South Africa would certainly fit the bill of divisive, as they had no purpose other than to separate citizens of the same country by race and class. But a border wall serves a distinctly different purpose, and—by the way—one which many other countries around the world have taken advantage of: controlling the flow of non-citizens into a sovereign country. I don’t believe that Trump is racist against Mexican people, and certainly wouldn’t have voted for him if he were. I practice contextualization when I listen to Trump’s speeches.

So, then, where is the merit to the idea? I wasn’t a single-issue voter that ultimately pulled the lever for Trump because of the wall. But I do see positives. Here are the top three:

#1 As I mentioned before, the type of illegal immigrant more likely to cross the border on foot has some correlation to those who for whatever reason couldn’t get a plane ticket or visa into the country (i.e. criminally suspect). Currently, only around 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border is fenced at all[2]. And these fences have holes, cuts in the chain link, tunnels, and are in bad need of repair. Since the level of crime committed by illegal immigrants is somewhere above 0 (plenty of high-profile cases like Kate Steinle stand out in the public’s mind), the United States government has an obligation to address the issue by securing the border from continued illegal crossings. Preventing senseless and avoidable crime is, to me, the most compelling merit of the border wall.

#2 Donald Trump is fulfilling a core campaign promise by building the wall. Many of Trump’s votes came from the single issue of the wall. In a world where campaign promises are neglected more often than naught once in office, some credit should rightly be issued for a politician who follows through on his or her word.

#3 The alarming trend on the far-left to call for all borders (and border walls) to be completely dismantled signals a dangerous appetite for global hegemony, and the argument over Trump’s wall is giving the far-left a poignant vehicle to renew their case. In the 1640s, the world’s empires signed an accord called the Peace of Westphalia which, among ending an ongoing conflict, paved the road for national self-determination. People eventually became empowered to band together under their own self-formed governments and live by their own rules of freedom and liberty without needing royal blood or divine decree to do so. Imagine most every novel about a dystopian, hegemonic world: what plot element do they all have in common? Global hegemony; or, a massive, unrestrained governing body that keeps the majority of people poor, oppressed, and unable to think for themselves. Like the issue of states’ rights, the preservation of the Westphalian-order means, globally, we get multiple attempts at organizing righteously and seeking a moral and just society (world powers that act perversely have checks to their power). If borders become nonexistent and all the world’s countries move in the direction of conforming to a single culture or ideology, then what guarantees we get it right? Of course, a wall alone doesn’t lend credence to the value of the nation-state, but a democratically elected president securing his or her country’s border with physical assets is an inherent characteristic of sovereignty that must be preserved.

This is not an impassioned argument for a wall. But this is a plea for civility in discourse. I hope, through the current hysteria, both the Trump administration and the American people can move forward and make a decision based on a complete analysis of the merits and concerns associated with building the wall. However, refusing to acknowledge the complete universe of costs and benefits in any decision-making process does a disservice to everyone involved. At this point, I do think Trump should reinforce the southern border with a physical structure of some sort. But wall, fence, or otherwise, Trump nonetheless promises a “big, beautiful door;” I cherish this promise and look forward to continuing America’s principled tradition of being a nation of immigrants.

[1] And, yes, sufficient technology and engineering capabilities exists such that climbing over and tunneling beneath the wall can be prevented.

[2] Though, geographical barriers such as mountains and rivers do exist along nearly half of the full length of the border.


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