Democrats are Being Disingenuous on the Role of Security Fencing in Reducing Illegal Immigration and Crime

The government shutdown drags on, apparently over Trump’s desire to secure $5 billion for more border security fencing. Democrats are denying Trump his “wall” and it appears to be entirely over their desire to not allow the President to be able to keep his signature promise made during the 2016 presidential campaign. It certainly isn’t understandable as a principled position given past statements on the subject of illegal immigration.

Here’s Bill Clinton in 1995:

“All Americans, not only in the States most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public service they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That’s why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens.”

He continued: “We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it.”

Here’s Barack Obama in 2013:

“Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my administration has already made—putting more boots on the Southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years. Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship—a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.”

In 2006, Obama said that “better fences and better security along our borders” would “help stem some of the tide of illegal immigration in this country.” The year before he said: “We simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States, undetected, undocumented, unchecked and circumventing the line of people who are waiting patiently, diligently and lawfully to become immigrants in this country.” “We all agree on the need to better secure the border and to punish employers who choose to hire illegal immigrants,” he said. “We are a generous and welcoming people, here in the United States, but those who enter the country illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of law and they are showing disregard for those who are following the law,” he said.

In 2013, All 54 Democrats voted to pass the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, And Immigration Modernization Act. The bill required the completion of “700 miles of pedestrian fencing along the border” and allocated $45 billion on border security improvements. Not $5 billion. $45 billion. And in November 2015, Hilary Clinton told a crowd: “I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in. And I do think you have to control your borders.”

We can go down the line and identify numerous Democratic leaders saying very similar things. So what has changed? Why are Democrats hanging up Trump over 5 billion dollars in security fencing? Why all the sudden do we see a flurry of analyses claiming security fencing doesn’t work? Why are we now seeing border control depicted as the second-coming of the Holocaust? Why is every migrant portrayed as a refugee? Where was the outcry when Democrats sounded like Trump?

On this business about the efficacy of walls, Jennifer Miller, writing for Scientific America, claims that “Trump’s wall” “would destroy an extraordinary web of biodiversity that evolved over millions of years.” She makes a very powerful case for the efficacy of walls to prevent the migration of all manner of flora and fauna. For those who say walls don’t stop things, the truth is they can stop almost everything, according to Miller. The fact that walls and fences are good at stopping people is why we build them around prisons and forts. It’s why we have locks on doors. The two-story corrugated metal fence erected by George W. Bush’s administration dramatically curtailed both illegal border crossings and crime in El Paso, which borders Juarez, a city shot through with crime and violence. I know there is a great desire to deny that criminals cross the border (they’re all refugees, right?), but the fact is that they do. Mexicans and Central Americans enter the United States to extend the range of their criminal territory or disappear from law enforcement or other criminals looking for them. Not all of them. A lot of them. The Yuma Border Sector on the US/Mexico border in San Luis, Arizona, has also drastically reduced immigration and, as a result, crime. The reductions in immigration in both cases near or exceed 90%. The reduction of crime is a consequence of reducing the flow of those who are most likely to seek to illegally enter a country; as a rule, reputable and stable citizens follow the rules and aren’t running from anything, therefore they are not crossing borders without authorization.

Walls and fences are not as effective when there are gaps in them, but they are nonetheless effective where they stand. Fences designed to allow flora and smaller fauna would address many of the concerns the Scientific America article presents. Whatever gets built there will be called a wall whether it is a wall or a fence. Trump gets what he wants. But it’s what Democrats want, too.

Democrats know that the southern border is a source of crime and violence in the United States, that criminal networks involved in human trafficking are driving people, including children, across dangerous terrain and around ports of entry and security fencing to drop them in the United States where their labor will be super-exploited by capitalists who will not pay US citizens wages commensurate with the job. Crime makes Democrats look bad. For both parties, crime is used as a justification for more police, tougher laws, and more prisons. The public has a compelling interest in crime reduction at the border. I am not happy that fencing is part of the solution to the problem. I wish I could live in a world where I didn’t have to lock my doors.

To be sure, Democrats do not mind the exploitation of immigrant labor or the displacement of native-born labor; what they want is a legal system of imported labor for these purposes. Every year in the US, hundreds of thousands of foreign workers enter the country legally. When in the context of rhetoric concerning illegal immigration Bill Clinton says, “The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants,” he conveniently leaves out the fact that legal immigrants hold jobs that might otherwise be held by citizens. Whatever the motive, the effective control of people across the US-Mexico border is a necessity.

Footnote: Consider the millions of citizens in the criminal justice system, disproportionately black, who are there because there was no real effort to train them and put them in a job that could have kept them out of trouble, or who, despite committing a nonviolence offense, or a not-very-serious violent offense, are left to waste away behind walls financed by the US tax dollars at a cost of tens of billions of dollars annually.  This is a great betrayal on a moral plane. As a nation we need to find or make a job for every man and woman who is able to work. Only after that should we assess labor shortages and consider foreign workers. That will require sharply reducing the flow of legal immigrants into the country, which will have the benefit of providing time for assimilation to proceed and our culture to adapt. I am fully aware, as I have written about on this blog, that the rationale behind the constant flow of immigrants into the United States is to increase supply relative to demand and suppress wages for American workers. It will take a very large popular movement to change the force of capital importing labor to undermine the domestic working class (the left seems completely incapable of putting two and two together on this one). However, restricting illegal immigration can help our most vulnerable citizens.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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