The current partial shutdown of the federal government is a direct consequence of conducting a dubious border wall debate in a factual vacuum.
Fortunately, the truth can set us free from this invented crisis.
Fact: Much of the US-Mexico border is already walled, fenced, or fortified by natural barriers (mountains, deserts, the Rio Grande).
Implication: This is not a debate between wall-happy Republicans and open borders Democrats. Bipartisan bills built the existing walls and fences, and neither party has advocated their removal.
So, what’s the real dispute? Many Republicans want to build bigger, better, longer, and more permanent border walls. Most Democrats regard existing fortifications as adequate, and prefer to invest in smarter, cheaper border control technology (e.g., video surveillance, drones, ground sensors, etc.).
Properly framing the debate enables us to ask the right questions: Does evidence show we need a better wall? How well are existing border security measures working?
Available facts can answer these questions.
Fact: After 9/11, Congress more than tripled the Border Patrol’s budget. Agency funding rose from about $1 billion in 2000 to more than $3.6 billion by 2016.
Fact: Since 9/11, the US has plowed more than $6 billion into expanding and upgrading border barriers: from 77 miles of fencing in 2000 to more than 700 miles of walls and fences now.
Fact: Since 9/11, the Border Patrol has doubled the number of agents assigned to the US-Mexico border — from fewer than 9,000 in 2000 to about 18,600 today.
Fact: US-Mexico border apprehensions have fallen 82% since 2000 — from more than 1.6 million arrests in 2000 to fewer than 304,000 in 2017.
Implications: Evidently, throwing money at the problem has worked. Tripling the Border Patrol budget and doubling its personnel has caused illegal entries to fall dramatically. The job-destroying Great Recession also discouraged immigration, but improved border security has so far prevented illegal entries from rebounding despite a decade of economic recovery.
Epiphany: Claims of a border crisis are vastly overblown. In fact, under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the southern border became more secure than ever. Donald Trump’s claims to the contrary were factually inaccurate during the 2016 campaign, and have remained false since then.
Fact: Nearly all illegal entries occur in areas already walled or fenced.
Implications: Since almost no one enters through unfenced areas, it would be foolish to build walls there.
Upgrading existing barriers will not significantly reduce illegal entries. Tunneling will still work. Thicker walls may take more time to breach, and taller fences may require longer ladders. But determined human ingenuity will always find ways to defeat static physical barriers.
Better walls are useless against vehicles passing through legal ports of entry carrying stowaways.
Facts: Since 2007, most new undocumented residents did not arrive by sneaking across a border. Most entered the US legally, but then overstayed their visas. Border walls will not stop this.
Facts: Trump promised Mexico would pay for his wall. Mexico has refused. Polls show Americans overwhelmingly oppose his wall.
Implication: Trump should man up and back down.