The United States Congress passed the "Secure Fence Act of 2006" which authorized the creation of several separation barriers at the Mexican-American border and the installation of a virtual fence consisting of surveillance cameras, sensors, and other equipment to cover those parts of the border that do not have a physical wall. The debate is highly related to the American debate on immigration, and controversies about the fence center on its efficacy, costs, symbolic value, and more.
A fence would help defend the economy of the United States during difficult times by protecting American jobs. It is a popular misconception that immigrants only do the types of jobs that native-born Americans will not take. Many professions encompassing construction, grounds-maintenance, housekeeping, and janitorial services actually have the majority of jobs performed by native-born Americans.1 Furthermore, illegal immigrants constitute a tremendous drain on various public benefits. These include medical treatment (because no one who is seriously injured or sick can be turned away from the emergency room as a result of a law called EMTALA)2 , municipal services like fire and police protection, food stamps, and education in public schools. Every dollar that gets spent on illegal immigrants is a dollar that could have been spent on law-abiding American citizens, who need all the help they can get during these difficult times.
1 Camarota, Steven and Jensenius, Karen. "Jobs Americans Won't Do?"
2Jordan, Miriam. "Illegal Immigration Enters the Health-Care Debate."
This assumes the fence is efficacious and therefore the cause of the reduction. It is not – there are numerous bypasses, ranging from simple ladders on pickup trucks to complex tunnels for the movement of people and drugs.1 While it may seem to be the case that the fence has caused the reduced numbers of illegal immigrants attempting to cross, in actuality this is because of the economic downturn in the United States.2,3 If there are no jobs, it stands to reason there is not going to be an influx of workers.
Even if it were efficacious, however, the idea that immigrants steal jobs is fundamentally flawed. Immigrants fill gaps in the domestic labour market.4 They are non-competitive for most types of jobs, such as supervisor positions.5 And anyways, most economists say that immigration grows the economy by expanding demand for goods and services that immigrants consume, and consequently this actually creates more jobs. While immigrants certainly may push down wages for some occupations, the net effect is to increase average wages for non-immigrant Americans.
Finally, the economies of many border towns on the United States’ side of the fence will suffer because of decreased demand for their goods and services.
1McGreal, Chris. “The battle of the US-Mexico frontier.”
2Associated Press. “U.S.-Mexico border fence almost complete.”
3Archibold, Randal and Preston, Julia. “Homeland Security Stands by Its Fence.”
4Cowen, Tyler. “How Immigrants Create More Jobs.”
5Novak, Viveca. “Does Immigration Cost Jobs?”
Ironically, even Mexico recognizes this when it attempts to increase border enforcement along its own southern border with Guatemala1,2. If those policies are lawfully set by the people and legislature, then regardless of how efficacious a particular tool is, it is justified. It is clear that the fence is wildly popular – well over half of the United States supports it3 , and many individuals are so adamant about increasing border security that they are willing to make donations for these purposes4. The social contract of the United States means that the government is democratically elected and therefore accountable to its people. If they want to focus on securing the borders instead of providing more extensive welfare programs or reforming education or anything else they could be spending money on, that is their prerogative.
1Thompson, Ginger. “Mexico Worries About Its Own Southern Border.”
2Cutler, Michael. “Hypocrisy: Mexico Building Security Fence Against Guatemala.”
3Rasmussen Reports. “Support for Mexican Border Fence Up to 68%.”
4Crawford, Amanda. “Arizona’s State-Owned Mexico Border Fence Attracts Donors From Across U.S.”
Just because many people are in favour of a policy does not mean it is normatively justified. Policies that have little to no efficacy and actually even create the opposite outcome than is desired are certainly not justified by this logic. People only want a fence because they think that it will protect American jobs and border security. If a closer examination of the economics of illegal immigration demonstrates that immigration actually grows the economy, it seems nonsensical to continue maintaining the fence. This just perpetuates racist attitudes.
Mexican violence between drug cartels frequently spills over and threatens the lives and peace-of-mind of Americans as well. The Council on Foreign Relations has said that Mexico's levels of violence and lawlessness over the past few years exceed even those in Iraq or Afghanistan.1 That has forced a costly increased police presence in border areas, and even that often proves insufficient to quell the killings. But even if the violent common criminals were somehow suppressed because of stepped up actions by the Mexican government, an easily penetrated border presents a national security threat. The FBI has warned that it is likely that Al Qaeda operatives and other terrorist groups will use the porous Mexican border as a means of infiltrating the country and launching deadly plots against American citizens in future. To prevent the carrying out of attacks, America needs secure borders.
1 McGreal, Chris. "The battle of the US-Mexico frontier."
Safety arguments are a red herring; terrorism will not be effectively prevented by the erection of the border fence. We need a proactive strategy that gathers intelligence and works with counterterrorism officials abroad to disrupt recruitment and training centers for terrorist groups.1 If some immigrants can slip through, so can some terrorists. At any rate, the 9/11 hijackers and other Al-Qaeda terrorists traditionally have not come through the Mexican border but rather from abroad and by airplanes or seaports, or they are homegrown radicals. Spending billions of dollars in a vain series of attempts to seal ourselves in an impenetrable fortress simply helps terrorists fulfill their goals of making us live in a culture of perpetual fear. As for drug trafficking, this problem is largely born of the tremendous market for it that still exists in the United States. If the demand dried up, so would the suppliers; on the other hand, if there is still an incredibly lucrative market, no fence will stop them from ferrying large amounts of drugs over the border, and most of the weapons the narcotics traffickers use actually come from the United States as well.2 We need to look to other solutions besides simplistic fences.
1 Bruguire, Jean-Louis. "The holes in America's anti-terror fence."
2McGreal, Chris. "The battle of the US-Mexico frontier."
Illegal immigrants are openly flaunting the law, and permitting them to enter the country in this way demeans the hard-working individuals who immigrated legally. If people become angrier about illegal immigrants because more of them are coming in without a fence, this may also lead to the negative outcome of poorer treatment of Latinos who live and work legally in the United States. If there were no or very few illegal immigrants, there would be much less tension in communities since everyone would know that all the inhabitants had come there legally.
Just because something is a law does not mean that it is justified or morally correct. There have been many bad and unjustified laws on the books of the legal codes of many countries. Any means of carrying out the ends of a just law that will have terrible impacts are themselves also unjustified. When there are hundreds of people who have died in attempts to cross deserts or dangerous terrain to go around the fence in order to find gainful employment, that is a good indication that a policy is failing.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 authorized the construction of at least two layers of reinforced fencing in high-crossing and high-risk sections along the border. This includes around the border town of Tecate, Calif., and a huge expanse stretching from Calexico, Calif., to Douglas, Ariz., which is virtually the entire length of Arizona's border with Mexico. Another section would stretch over most of the southern border of New Mexico. An additional section will wind through Texas, from Del Rio to Eagle Pass, and from Laredo to Brownsville. This would not only be a fence but will include technology to secure "operational control" of the border by using unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, radar, satellites and cameras.1
1Weisman, Jonathan. "With Senate Vote, Congress Passes Border Fence Bill."
The border fence is a waste of money. It and the associated measures was given a budget of $1.2billion[i] and it is not likely to be a comprehensive fix. If the fence just covers current high crossing areas then these areas will simply move to more inhospitable areas or migrants will find other ways around – such as travelling through the gulf of Mexico by boat as occurs between in the Mediterranean for migrants travelling from North Africa to Europe.
[i] Weisman, Jonathan. "With Senate Vote, Congress Passes Border Fence Bill."
By cutting off components of the habitat, the fence diminishes gene flow and reduces the ability for survival, or creates remnant populations that are too small to sustain the species.1 Counter-intuitively, even certain winged species which fly low to the ground would be at risk. Climate change is forcing more migrations, and this would also prevent animals from carrying those out.2 This has been so lightly regarded by U.S. officials that at one point Mexico actually threatened to file a claim with the International Court of Justice.3
1Goldstein, Rob. "US-Mexico border fence putting wildlife at risk of extinction."
2Marshall, Jessica. "U.S.-Mexico Border Fence May Snag Wildlife."
3Magee, Megan. "The U.S.-Mexico Border Wall: An Environmental And Human Rights Disaster."
While environmental concerns are certainly serious and warrant consideration, we need to balance the competing interests here. It is only a handful of species that would be threatened by this project, and any such endangered species can be moved into specially-designed preservation facilities that mimic the natural habitat. On the other hand, there is no other truly effective way to stop illegal immigrant crossings. In this sense, the local environment is a sacrifice of necessity. A related environmental concern is the pollution border-crossers leave in the desert and surrounding habitats, which would actually be reduced if fewer of them were crossing.
Because it does not create an airtight border, it simply forces crossings at more dangerous locales like the hot, snake-infested deserts. Thousands of Mexicans have died since 2000 attempting the crossing, while less than 300 people died attempting to cross the Berlin Wall in almost three decades.1 The bodies of at least four hundred people were found in 2010.2 Simply put, barriers do not diminish the desire for a better life.3 That sort of catastrophic disregard for the fundamental humanity of these people demeans America as a nation. It is hard to reconcile this disregard with our considerable humanitarian support for starving people in Somalia and all over the world. We should work together to help hard-working individuals provide for their families. Most border-crossers are not drug runners, but people who just want legitimate jobs so they can feed their families.
1 Defense News. "US Drones Track Drug Lords Over Mexico."
2McGreal, Chris. "The battle of the US-Mexico frontier."
3McFadyen, Jennifer. "Immigration Issues: US-Mexico Border Fence Pros and Cons."
We have no absolute moral obligation to everyone in the world. Many individuals are now calling for serious reductions in foreign aid and in foreign interventions in order to help Americans who are also suffering. That suffering is no less worthy of support just because it is not as highly publicized or televised on international news. Times may be difficult in Mexico, but they are difficult in America as well, and a country has an obligation to its citizens first, and then everyone else. It is legitimate and justified to build a fence to protect the American economy.
The United States needs to demonstrate that it is interested in being a true partner with Mexico in efforts to reduce drug trafficking and the pervasive cartel-driven violence of northern Mexico. Trying to simply keep all the Mexicans out is offensive; the governor of the Mexican state Coahuila has called the fence a "wall of hate",1 and in 2005 Mexican President Vincente Fox called the situation "disgraceful and shameful."2 Many individuals in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas have family and friends on the Mexican side and speak fluent Spanish, and don't support the wall. On the other hand, Arizona's demographics reflect population growth as the result of many Midwestern "snowbirds" with little experience of Latino culture moving there, and thus Arizona has much harsher prejudices against Mexicans.3 If we do not cooperate with Mexico, they will be less likely to share information valuable to our national security or cooperate with us on foreign policy initiatives.
1Hylton, Hillary. "Opponents of the Border Fence Look to Obama."
2Global Security. "US-Mexico Border Fence."
3The Economist. "Good neighbours make fences."
The United States has consistently demonstrated that it is a true partner in the war on organized crime in Northern Mexico. For instance, it has used unmanned drones like the ones in Pakistan to gather intelligence on Mexican drug lords.1 The relationship is healthy and Mexican officials frequently cooperate; it is certainly possible that there are underlying domestic political motivations for those politicians to be making such strong statements, and we should not necessarily take them at face value as representing the best picture of Mexican-American relations.
1 Defense News. "US Drones Track Drug Lords Over Mexic
Not all illegal immigrants who are in the United States arrive by means of crossing the border; some overstay legally-acquired work visas. Attempts to implement "virtual" components of the fence have failed on several grounds. Images were too blurry, the systems performed poorly in bad weather, and there were false detections because of the inability to distinguish between animals and people.1 The technology also suffered from software bugs, and ultimately squandered billions of dollars.2 Because not all of the approximately 2000 mile border is covered by actual fencing, and even the physical fencing that exists is not continuous and relied on virtual components to cover the gaps, immigrants can easily go around the fence or through the weak points.3 In the past, immigrants have also used ladders or deception techniques (like cars with hollowed out dashboards) to bypass the fence. Additionally, drug runners have developed extensive and sophisticated tunnels to duck the wall and clear any sort of security checkpoints, rendering this defense mechanism with a price tag in the billions of USD4 (and expensive upkeep costs to boot) virtually useless.5 Finally, many individuals who cross the border looking for employment do so repeatedly, even when they are deported or turned back at the border by agents.6 In jurisdictions where these individuals are held in detention on misdemeanour charges, they contribute to overcrowding in prison facilities and consume valuable prosecutorial resources.7
1Ryan, Jason. "Homeland Security Axes Bush-Era 'Virtual Fence' Project."
2NYT Editors. "Virtual Failure on the Border."
3The Economist. "Good neighbours make fences."
4McFadyen, Jennifer. "Immigration Issues: US-Mexico Border Fence Pros and Cons."
5Global Security. "US-Mexico Border Fence."
6Federation for American Immigration Reform. "US Mexico Border Fence and Patrol Operations."
7Archibold, Randal and Preston, Julia. "Homeland Security Stands by Its Fence."
The role of concentrated fencing around urban areas in particular is to prevent immigrants from blending immediately into a town population, and in that sense, it is effective.1Even if you divert some illegal immigrant traffic elsewhere along the border, fencing still reduces overall rates of crossing by forcing those who would cross to go through more dangerous and barren territory; this is a significant deterrent. 2 Additionally, you can step up border patrols in the areas that do not cover the fence to catch drug smugglers and other illegal border crossers.3 This reduces the numbers of border patrol agents necessary to create an effective net to catch would-be illegal immigrants, and consequently reduces the long-term costs of border protection measures. The fence is meant to be merely a tool in the tool box, not a comprehensive solution to the problem of illegal immigration.4
1Associated Press. "U.S.-Mexico border fence almost complete."
2Wood, Daniel. "Where U.S.-Mexico border fence is tall, border crossings fall."
3Hendricks, Tyche. "Border security or boondoggle?"
4Archibold, Randal and Preston, Julia. "Homeland Security Stands by Its Fence."
The fence serves as a band-aid fix, seemingly solving the problem while not really advancing comprehensive immigration reform. Maintenance of the fence and stringent border patrol contingents drains money that could be used to facilitate better solutions to the supposed problems immigration creates.1Additionally, the perception that something is already being done about illegal immigration saps the political will to find better solutions to the problem. This enables us to ignore the need to investigate shady business practices by employers, for instance.
1 Emmott, Robin. "A costly U.S.-Mexico border wall, in both dollars and deaths."
This argument is based on drastically different goals than the one that would support the fence being raised. While some individuals may want to take in illegal immigrants and provide them with generous welfare benefits and call that "comprehensive immigration reform", that is not what the majority of Americans want. They want illegal immigrants kept out of the country, and that in and of itself is a solution from their perspective, so to say that a fence distracts from the goal is just a straw-man. In the sense that it helps keep people out, it is working just as intended.
Erecting the fence and taking other measures (such as investigating employers who hire illegal immigrants) are by no means mutually exclusive, and we can do both to ensure that American jobs are going to people who are in America legally.