A wall for (certain) immigrants in a nation of immigrants
Building a big, “beautiful” wall across thousands of miles of river and desert might be the dumbest mainstream political idea in a generation, and won’t solve the problems its supporters think exist.
On April 4, 1980, GOP presidential candidates George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan debated in Houston. A question was posed: do you think children of undocumented immigrants should attend public schools for free?
Noted “bleeding-heart” Mr. Bush answered first: “I’d like to see something done about the illegal alien problem that would be so sensitive, and so understanding about labor needs, and human needs, that that problem wouldn’t come up. But today, if those people are here, I would reluctantly say they would get whatever ... society is giving their neighbors…. We’re creating a whole society of really honorable, decent, family-loving people that are in violation of the law…. The answer to your question is much more fundamental than whether they attend Houston schools, it seems to me. I don’t want to see ... six- and eight-year-old kids…totally uneducated, and being made to feel that they’re living outside the law. Let’s address ourselves to the fundamentals. These are good people, strong people.”
Not to be outdone, Ronald “Old Softie” Reagan followed: “Rather than… talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then, while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here. And when they want to go back they can go back, and cross. And open the border both ways, by understanding their problems. This is the only safety valve they have right now, with that unemployment, that probably keeps the lid from blowing off… And I think we could have a fine relationship.”
Open borders, work visas? The understanding that immigrants are responding to larger economic forces to find work in the U.S.? The affirmation that immigrants were not dangerous forces sneaking past the border to undermine “Americanness,” but just people seeking opportunity? And, under all that, the humanity of the candidates’ tones and solutions? What kind of socialist/hippie/snowflake stuff is that?
Imagine, if you will, a community of 50,000 undocumented immigrants here in the U.S. They are reluctant to call the police in an emergency. They are unsure whether to take their sick children to the emergency room. They don’t know what will happen to them — or their families — if they are pulled over, or hurt at work, or have to go to a government office.
Now, imagine these undocumented immigrants are from, you guessed it, Ireland. (Yes: 50,000 undocumented Irish — look it up.) Should they be identified and deported? Are they a threat to “Americanness?” Are they “getting things for free” that they shouldn’t? If these 50,000 Irish are the “right kind” of immigrants in your mind, why is that?
The economic data are unanimous: immigration has little long-run effect on Americans’ wages. Immigration leads to more innovation, a better-educated workforce, greater occupational specialization, better matching of skills with jobs, and higher overall economic productivity. It is pretty obvious that the Colorado and Grand Valley economies would collapse (yes, collapse) if only U.S. citizens were in the workforce.
Yet every few years, a new politician promises to rid the country of “dangerous” immigrants. And people actually show up at rallies and cheer it on. (And both parties are to blame. Look at President Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union speech, or President Obama’s deportation statistics.) The current permutation of that pattern is the “Build! The! Wall!” movement.
Given that no one can honestly argue that immigration harms the economy, is it just plain fear of people with non-white skin that fuels this cycle? Is it really that dumb of a reason?
Well, let’s summarize: the “Build! The! Wall!” movement’s solution is to literally build a Game of Thrones wall across 1,989 miles of the U.S. - Mexico border. This would include about 1,000 miles on the Rio Grande in Texas, which, you know, makes it impossible to build a wall there. This fantastical plan also leaves 5,525 miles of unprotected border with Canada.
Given that a border wall (that doesn’t wall off the border) is as effective as pulling a blanket over your head in preventing under-bed monster attacks, then yes — fear appears to the sole, dumb reason to “Build! The! Wall!”
This insane plan needs to die quickly so that the rest of the world can stop laughing at us. Leave a thousands-miles long impenetrable wall to Game of Thrones. At least that wall had magic ice.