If erected, President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE’s border wall would be a symbol for America’s failure to implement effective immigration policies. It would be a tombstone marking the abandonment of our values that protect refugees and welcome immigrants. It would be a monument to our neglect to support healthy democracies in our hemisphere.
Most Americans, of course, do not support a border wall. Public opinion polls from December 2018 found that 54 percent to 57 percent of those surveyed did not support building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Most recently, the NPR/PBS/Marist Poll similarly reported that 56 percent of those surveyed thought President Trump should compromise on the border wall.
One only needs to turn to border security experts for reasons not to support a border wall. They note that the United States already has invested over $2 billion to build about 700 miles of fencing and has spent billions of dollars on border surveillance technologies. A 2016 study by the Migration Policy Institute that reviewed research from across the globe found little evidence that border walls stopped unauthorized migration. At best, the such barriers divert, rather than prevent, illegal flows.
It’s difficult to make a case for the border wall since unauthorized migration from Mexico has dropped to historic lows in recent years. The only significant uptick are the well-documented flows of asylum-seekers from Central America. Others more expert than I have warned about the dangers to our hemisphere if we turn our back on the violence and breakdown of civil society in the Northern Triangle. It is irresponsible to abandon Mexico to deal with the Central Americans displaced by the violence. Building Trump’s wall is not an honorable or a credible policy response, and it puts the stability of the whole region at risk.
The good news is that responsible and effective immigration policies do not need to be highly partisan issues. Democrats and Republicans are at an impasse only because President Trump insists that he needs $5 billion for his border wall. When it comes to immigration reform and border control, there is considerable common ground among Republicans and Democrats.
Reasonable policymakers in both parties long have known that border security resources need to be committed to modernizing our ports of entry (POEs). As RAND border security expert Blas Nunez-Neto has written, “(P)olicymakers could consider investing in improvements to the ability to detect narcotics at ports of entry, the common entry point for the most dangerous drugs.” In addition, national security and commerce require that we upgrade the infrastructure at POEs to be able to handle the flow of people and goods in the 21st century. Neglecting the POEs in pursuit of a border wall is shortsighted and dangerous.
There long has been bipartisan support for increasing the number of immigration judges and asylum officers along the southern border. For example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) have supported increasing the number of judges. We would not need to turn a Walmart into a detention center if there were sufficient adjudicators and judges to process credible-fear and asylum cases fairly and expeditiously. Asylum-seekers and other migrants would not be languishing along the border, and children would not be separated from their parents, if we funded adjudicators commensurate with border security.
Finally, for the past two decades, policymakers from both sides of the political aisle have recognized the need to reform legal immigration so that it better conforms to the national interest. Several times during the Bush and Obama administrations, comprehensive immigration reform bills drafted by a bipartisan group of senators passed the U.S. Senate. Even the “Dreamers” who enjoy broad and bipartisan support have not seen legislation enacted to resolve their immigration status. In other words, there is agreement that immigration policy should be revised to reflect the national interest, but we have not yet reached a consensus on what constitutes the national interest. This, not the wall, is the debate that should engage us.
At the dawn of 2019, it is time to leave failed ideas behind and move immigration reform and control forward.
Ruth Ellen Wasem is a clinical professor of policy at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, the University of Texas in Austin. For more than 25 years, she was a domestic policy specialist at the U.S. Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service. She has testified before Congress about asylum policy, legal immigration trends, human rights and the push-pull forces on unauthorized migration.