Campaign promises do not sound policy make. There is no doubt that a simpleton running for president will come up with simplistic solutions to serious and complex problems facing this country in his or her quest for the presidency. It is equally certain that his or her simpleminded followers will swallow the simplistic solution hook, line and sinker especially if it feeds their own prejudices. This dynamic only becomes a serious problem if that simpleton actually somehow, some way finds him or herself elected president of these United States.
Welcome to the Trump border wall controversy.
In my capacity as the Director of Trade Enforcement with the U.S. Customs Service (later to be part of Customs & Border Protection under the Department of Homeland Security reorganization in 2005), I visited just about every major official port of entry along the southwest border of the United States. These official ports of entry included San Ysidro, Tijuana, Otay Mesa and Calexico in California, Nogales in Arizona, and, El Paso, Eagle Pass, Laredo, Hidalgo, Pharr, and Brownsville in Texas.
If you ever find yourself at one of these ports of entry, you might also get an opportunity to see some photo exhibit on the methods used to smuggle people though these official ports by hiding them in cargo, hollowing out the rear seats of vehicles and hiding them under the back seat, hiding them behind fake walls on trucks, even hiding them in the undercarriage of the trucks, and so on and so on. In other words, smuggling what in today’s vernacular are referred to as “illegals” through these legitimate ports of entry NOT between these ports of entry.
You know what is absolutely useless to stop that kind of smuggling? A BIG BEAUTIFUL WALL! Granted, there are areas along the southwest border at which an impenetrable barrier is called for. I’ve seen so-called walls at various border locations including El Paso, Texas, and they serve a useful purpose in helping to counter illegal immigration. There is a place for these structures, but NOT along the full extent of the more than 2000 miles of the southwest border with Mexico. That would not be the most effective use of taxpayer dollars.
You know what would be even more useful than a border wall? Investment in technological tools and trained staff to use them. This is what is needed to address the more serious threat to security posed by illegal entry at the ports of entry. Those seeking asylum by crossing the border between the ports rather than risk being turned away at the ports do not pose a significant threat to society. They, for the most part, are just looking for a better life for their families just like my grandparents did when they fled Eastern Europe.
The much more serious threat to our security is posed by those much more sophisticated smugglers smuggling both people and illegal drugs through the official ports of entry. For this threat a border wall is a much less effective deterrent; for this threat, as well as combating any illegal immigration, investment in technology such as surveillance drones, scanning and x-ray equipment, and the like and, just as importantly, more staff and appropriate training of that additional staff to effectively utilize the technological tools provided is a much more effective use of taxpayer dollars. It is the very essence of the difference between wise investment of taxpayer money versus wasteful spending for purely political purposes to keep a naive and uninformed political promise.
The fact of the matter is this: the debate has never been between border security and open borders. No one is for open borders and for Trump and his Republican sycophants to portray it as such is completely disingenuous and outright FAKE. The debate is and has always been about investment in effective border security versus a major investment in far less effective border security as symbolized by the Trump wall.
So now the question is what is next, who will cave? With a soon to be Democrat controlled House of Representatives along with a Senate that is still not filibuster proof, the resistance to implementing ill-conceived Trump campaign promises will only be stronger.
So what is the dilemma facing Trump? His dilemma is this: that border wall promised by Trump that was, by the way, supposed to be paid for by Mexico or so he promised, will not be easily abandoned by Trump. Why, you ask? Because, more than anything to do with effective border security, it is a symbol to his base to halt the influx of “brown people” into this country. It is a symbol that Trump is on the side of those in the electorate who fear brown people. When “brown people” become citizens they can vote and “brown people” as a block ordinarily vote Democrat. That is the real dilemma facing Trump and Republicans: invest in effective border security or continue to hold on to the anti-brown symbol epitomized by that wall?
Oh, and one last thing to note: the vast majority of illegal immigrants are already in the country as a result of having overstayed the expiration of their visitor or student visas. Investment in better tracking systems might just be a tad more effective to find these individuals than a wall.
A wall is not the cure-all for addressing illegal immigration. Never was, never will be and only the most naive among us could ever believe that it is.