What in the World: Do border barriers work?

In an increasingly walled-off world, Pres. Trump continues to insist on adding one more border barrier. But are walls the best way to protect a country?

Posted: Dec 25, 2018 10:31 AM
Updated: Dec 25, 2018 10:40 AM

President Trump has shut down the government over his failure to obtain funding for a wall across America's border with Mexico. He says it's about "border security," but the reality is far more disturbing.

Trump's wall is "deeply rooted in xenophobia," Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, explained Thursday on my SiriusXM radio show. Omar, who will make history as both the first Somali refugee and the first Muslim-American female to wear a hijab in Congress, added, "there are folks on the right, political pundits on TV shows talking about how immigrants make this country dirty and poor and more dangerous." (She was referring to recent inflammatory comments about immigrants by Fox News' Tucker Carlson.)

Omar is correct. Trump's wall is about an irrational fear of outsiders -- but it's about more than that, too. Trump's wall is designed to address a key concern of his base: the browning of America. Bluntly, Trump's wall, if built, will likely be the largest and most expensive monument ever constructed to try and ensure the demographic supremacy of white America.

True, a massive wall that climbs 32 feet in the air, as Trump has discussed, and spans thousands of miles could provide some degree of border security. But then again, so would stationing US troops -- in locked arms -- across the border, or building a massive "Game of Thrones"-type ice wall. The question is what is the most effective in achieving that goal -- especially since Trump wants us to pay for it after he failed to get Mexico to bear the cost, as he had previously promised.

This past week, Republican Rep. Will Hurd from Texas, a former CIA agent, slammed the "fallacy that a wall equals border security." He explained, "I have more border (in my district) than any other member of Congress, 820 miles," and added that we can use available technology to keep us far safer than a wall. Hurd closed with a key point: "Building a wall from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security."

But Trump refuses to accept that technology suggested by people like Hurd and others will address the problem. Instead, Trump on Sunday took to Twitter to mock that very concept, writing, "Drones and all of the rest are wonderful and lots of fun," he wrote, but the "only way to stop drug, gangs, human trafficking, criminal elements" is by building a "good old fashioned Wall" -- or, perhaps, a "Steel Slat Barrier."

Hmm, whom to believe? A serial liar like Trump, or a former CIA operative who now represents a district along the Texas border?

For me, the choice is clear -- not only given Trump's track record, but because statistics also undermine his claims. First, despite what Trump wants you to believe, studies make it clear that immigrants, both undocumented and those legally here, are "considerably less likely to commit crime than native-born citizens." One study, conducted by the Cato Institute, found that "as a percentage of their respective populations, there were 56% fewer criminal convictions of illegal immigrants than of native-born Americans in Texas in 2015."

On top of that, illegal border crossings are currently at their lowest levels since 2000. And nearly two thirds of those now in the country illegally are here because they overstayed their visas after arriving via airports, while others even came over the northern border from Canada. A massive southern border wall obviously won't address this.

These facts are likely why polls consistently find a solid majority of Americans oppose building a wall, including 66% of independent voters, according to a recent CBS News poll. Even Texans oppose the wall. In a Quinnipiac poll, 61% were against it, while only 34% favored it.

But not Trump's base. A November poll found that nearly 80% of Republicans want the wall built.

Why this overwhelming support? It boils down to what actually motivates the base. Studies after the election found that many Trump supporters did not have "economic anxiety," as some in media had previously reported. Rather, they were concerned with a "loss of status," or more accurately, "white anxiety" over changing demographics. As one study at the University of Pennsylvania noted, Trump voters feared "a threat to their group's dominance in our country over all."

Trump's wall is a perfect symbolic panacea for those people fearful of demographic change. Sure, it may not actually work as hoped, but it will likely give them some comfort.

It's also likely Trump shares their concerns, given his reported comments that he doesn't want immigrants from Africa and Haiti, which he deemed "shithole" countries, and prefers people from Norway, a predominately white nation. With comments like those, it's no wonder that some white supremacists support this President.

Border security is a bipartisan issue -- Democrats and Republican both want it. So, if Trump truly wants to keep America safe, he would use technology that is both effective and cost efficient. But if his real fear is changing demographics and he wants to give phony reassurance to his base voters, then the only option is a "good old-fashioned Wall."

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