Walls are not Unidirectional
Via The Atlantic: An Unintended Side Effect of Trump’s Border Wall
In their popular song “Jaula de Oro,” which translates to “Cage of Gold,” the famous Mexican band Los Tigres del Norte tells the story of a migrant who finds himself unable to move across the U.S.-Mexico border. His lack of mobility does not keep him in Mexico, as one would expect, but in the United States.
Indeed, as the article points out, we have known this since the implementation of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act: more border security leads to more undocumented immigrants staying in the US rather than coming to work for a period of time and returning to Mexico. Indeed, it is one of the reasons that there are millions of undocumented persons permanently residing in the US: the dissolution of a more open border incentivized the creation of lives here in the US. Indeed, it disincentivizes return more than entry because the risk of getting caught coming in is simply not getting in, but getting caught leave could jeopardize economic and familial connections already established in the US.
One of IRCA’s primary measures was to increase the enforcement budget of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. As a result, crossing the national boundary became a much more dangerous and expensive enterprise. To avoid detection, migrants had to pay smugglers to help them get across hazardous terrains that were less patrolled.
Despite the new hardships of migration, relatively few Mexicans reconsidered their decision to head north. On the contrary, the numbers of undocumented migrants continued to grow. While in 1986, an estimated 3.2 million unauthorized migrants lived in the United States, the number reached 5 million in 1996, and grew to approximately 11 million in 2006.
Despite the increased fortification of the border, Mexicans continued going to the United States because of economic need. After all, the passage of IRCA did nothing to alter the low wages and high underemployment rates in Mexico. However, as sociologist Douglas Massey and others have shown, as crossing the border became increasingly hard after 1986, most migrants started refraining from going back and forth between the two countries and instead decided to settle permanently in the United States.
And, of course, it has to be remembered that a large percentage (roughly 40%) of the undocumented are visa over-stayers. That is: they legally crossed the border, but they did not leave when they were supposed to. Even with a huge, beautiful all the likes of which no one has ever seen, this will still happen, as immigrant will either pass over it via plane or through in via a gate. A terrific, amazing wall will not change the fact that once here many will then be less likely to leave for fear of not being able to get back in, or for fear of running afoul of law enforcement at the border. An important side-note on the visa over-stayer issue: their existence really destroys the notion that a wall would as efficacious as claimed.
One of the ironies of the IRCA is that it was partly created to enhance border security (sound familiar?) and it did, as noted. But that then created the conditions for migrant workers to remain in the US, leading to the unintended consequence of nearly 12 million undocumented persons residing in the US.
Note, for example, this graph:
Of course, the graph also shows that the numbers in question has been stable for going on a decade (which may suggest either we are at the end of some specific economic era, or it may be the border is as secure as it is going to get and therefore additional expenditures are fiscal foolishness).
As such, the effects of a wall, given its cost, needs to take into consideration both the effects that might actually counter said wall’s policy goals, as well as asking what problem it is actually solving. Yes, I know that many (most) proponents of the wall are not amendable to such deliberative approaches, but nonetheless, reality is what it is.