Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Wall

Six quick takeaways from reflection after this column was published:
(1) Talk of "a wall" across our southern border is to some degree "a solution in search of a problem;" if "the problem" is the number of undocumented immigrants, and rate of increase in immigration, (a) two-thirds of such immigrants (those who have overstayed their visas), and a larger percentage of the illegal drugs, have come through legal ports of entry, (b) at least some come across our almost open northern border with Canada, or by plane, boat, through tunnels, climbing over or digging under "border walls," or other means than walking across the southern border, and (c) there are some numbers indicating a decline in immigration. (More precisely, it is a possible partial solution to a relatively small proportion of a very much larger problem.)
(2) When addressing a problem it's more effective to treat its causes than its symptoms -- in this case the conditions that cause Central Americans to escape from their countries.
(3) If the focus is to remain on "border security" (rather than an holistic approach to "immigration policy and law") we at least need data and judgment from the U.S. and other countries' experts (non-ideological former border officials, academics, and "think tanks") as to the most cost-effective combinations of personnel, technology and barriers, specifying precisely the location, extent, and nature of any barriers (i.e., designed to prevent entry by vehicles, humans, or both).
(4) Our politicians (e.g., President, Speaker of the House) are no more qualified to dictate details of border security than the detailed designs of a fighter plane.
(5) If they are going to persist in doing so anyway, they at least need to speak in more specific and detailed language than "a wall" -- a word so vague as to be almost devoid of useful meaning in this context.
(6) A government "shutdown" (a) in this instance is doing enormous harm to hundreds of thousands of innocent federal workers, others dependent on federal services, and the economy, and (b) should never be used simply for leverage in bargaining regarding a campaign pledge.
Instead of a Wall, Focus on the Cause

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, January 20, 2019, p. D3

It makes no more sense to refuse to build “the wall” than to insist on building “the wall.”

Why? Because neither side explains what they’re talking about. [Photo credit: VOA file photo]

How about some facts and a pinch of rational analysis?

The Mexican-U.S. border includes water (Gulf of Mexico, Rio Grande, Pacific Ocean), mountains, deserts, urban areas, and wildlife habitats. It’s nearly 2000 miles long of which 650 miles already have “walls.” Some remaining stretches make more enforcement and economic sense than others.

Under ideal conditions walls costs $4 to $8 million dollars a mile – more than a two-lane highway. In other areas costs are multiples of that. Some places are nearly impossible to reach or prohibitively expensive.

Walls can be tunneled under and climbed over. We don’t have enough border agents to watch every few feet of fence through isolated deserts, canyons and mountains. What the agents want, and some economists say makes more benefit-cost sense, are more (a) communications and surveillance technology, and (b) personnel.

Can walls stop illegal drugs? The Drug Enforcement Administration says all but a tiny percentage come through legal ports of entry.

Are immigrants criminals? The percentage who commit crimes is less than the percentage for U.S. citizens.

Moreover, the families coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are a symptom, not a cause. They are escaping poverty, violence, lack of education and jobs – conditions we’ve helped create and have done little to alleviate.

Suppose dripping water from your kitchen ceiling was filling the pan you placed to catch it. Would your solution be to get a bigger bucket? Or would you go upstairs, discover the bathtub was overflowing, scream at whoever did it, shut off the faucet and start mopping?

In Afghanistan, after an Army general itemized extensive U.S. military construction projects, the popular stand-up comic, Kathleen Madigan, responded, “Wow! That is amazing. When we’re done, we should invade Detroit.”

Think about it. We’ve spent 17 years and trillions of dollars “improving” Afghanistan. What if we had also spent less than half that time and money “invading” northern Central America, training and hiring locals to build and staff schools, police stations, and hospitals? It would have been a lot easier to eliminate violence, crime and gangs from those countries than to eliminate the Taliban from Afghanistan.

It would have minimized our immigration challenges and costs. Few, if any, Central Americans would even think about leaving a happy home to walk a thousand miles or more to the United States.

We could still do it. Meanwhile, does anybody know where I can find a bigger bucket?
Nicholas Johnson’s latest book is Columns of Democracy. Contact:

Columns of Democracy (2018)

For those interested in more on this topic and others, Nicholas Johnson's latest book, Columns of Democracy (2018), is now available from Iowa City's Prairie Lights Bookstore, 15 S. Dubuque Street, or if you live outside of Iowa City: Amazon, (scroll to "Books by Nicholas Johnson," click on "Paperback," for "Sort by" select "Publication Date"), Barnes & Noble, (scroll down), and the publisher, Lulu Press,

#Afghanistan #CentralAmerica #ColumnsOfDemocracy #immigration #KathleenMadigan #Mexico #Pelosi #Trump #Wall

No comments: