This is the third post on the question of whether or not the southern border should be secured. The first post dealt with the history and background of the southern border. The second post dealt with the results of fencing already in place along the southern border. This post will deal with the cost of closing the U.S.-Mexico border with a barrier.
Peter Schrag believes that building a barrier, maintaining it, and closing the border would cost too much money without solving any problems. He estimates that it would cost $10 billion annually – in addition to the costs for the barrier and increased patrols - for “the cost of electronic sensors, surveillance aircraft, training of local police; the cost of detaining, incarcerating and deporting illegal immigrants; and the countless other expenses associated with border security.” Schrag is obviously correct about the high cost for securing the border, but he does not balance his estimates with any savings elsewhere.
Daniel Horowitz counters Schrag’s claim by reminding his readers that illegal immigration increases the costs in U.S. “welfare, education, hospitals, criminal justice system, highway safety, drug violence and culture” (6). Horowitz claims that the U.S. could erect a double-layer barrier for approximately 700 miles of the boundary and save money by using only a single layer fence for the rest of the border. He uses the costs of the Israeli barrier to show an approximate cost of $2 to $9 billion for a barricade along the U.S.-Mexico border. With President Trump’s experience in construction along with his desire to cut government expenses, the cost of building a barrier could be kept to a minimum.
Horowitz claims that the U.S could pay for the barrier with the thousands of dollars it would save with each illegal alien either deterred from crossing the border or deported. He backs up his statement with information from a report written about the effects of amnesty by Robert Rector and Jason Richwine at The Heritage Foundation. Rector and Richwine state that American-born children of illegal aliens are “currently eligible for the full range of government welfare and medical benefits,” and they increase the costs of “roads, parks, sewers, police, and fire protection.” They explain that the “average unlawful immigrant household” costs the American taxpayers approximately “$14,387 per [illegal] household.” This amount may not seem like much, but Rector and Richwine say there are “approximately 3.7 million unlawful immigrant households in the U.S. The unlawful households impose a net fiscal burden of around $54.5 billion per year.” These numbers show that the U.S. could pay the costs of maintaining a secure border with the funds saved by eliminating unlawful households.
Steven A. Camarota the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, supports the theories of Horowitz, Rector, and Richwine. Camarota says that stopping only “a small fraction of the illegal immigrants” over the next decade “would be sufficient to cover the costs of the wall.” He bases his theory on data from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) and says that “illegal border-crossers create an average fiscal burden of approximately $74,722 during their lifetimes, excluding any costs for their U.S.-born children.” Camarota estimates that $12 to $15 billion could be saved over the next decade by building a wall. It appears from the figures given by Horowitz, Rector, Richwine, and Camarota that the U.S. has the ability to secure the border and maintain security.
Even though a barrier seems to be an essential element of securing the border, the United States must consider other options to solving the problem of illegal immigration. Schrag’s biggest gripe about the cost of securing the border is that “immigration, both legal and illegal, is driven more by the economy than it is restrained by border enforcement.” He argues that people have been moving back and forth across the border for more than 150 years in order to reach whichever country had the best economy at the time of crossing. He reminds his readers that Americans invite foreign workers to come to the U.S. in good economies but reject them in bad ones. He suggests that Americans should decide what they want most.
Jeff Faux, the founder of the Economic Policy Institute, claims that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is to blame for the increased surge of undocumented aliens into the U.S. He says that it “was sold to the citizens of the United States, Mexico and Canada with the promise that free trade in goods and money would transform Mexico into a booming middle-class economy, dramatically reducing illegal immigration and creating a vast market for US and, to a lesser extent, Canadian exports.” He states that “out-migration has doubled” over the fifteen years since the treaty was put in place because of low wages being paid on both sides of the border. Revising NAFTA seems to be an essential piece of the solution to securing the border because doing so may help to improve Mexico’s economy.
At the same time, President Donald Trump talks about revising NAFTA because it has proven to be a bad deal for the United States. However, he does not mention the effect that it has had on Mexico. The agricultural area in northern Mexico was devastated, which led to increased illegal crossings into the U.S. According to Faux, corruption of the police and military and the violence of the drug culture “frightened away tourists and investors, making Mexico’s recession even worse.” The Mexican people have few choices when they have no jobs or money. They must be able to provide for the needs of their families one way or another.
Faux claims that the U.S. “will finally have to address its trade deficits and its massive foreign debt … slow down consumer spending, increase savings and sell more to – and buy less from – the rest of the world.” He worries that Mexico will have a more difficult time when the American market shrinks and says the renegotiation of NAFTA should have been done years ago. He claims that “Mexico’s growing troubles” will not stay on the southern side of the border even if a fence is built. He suggests that the U.S. should do something to help the economy of Mexico in order to successfully decrease the flow of illegal immigrants across the border. This could possibly be accomplished using excess savings from stopping illegal immigration.
Along the same lines, Schrag is concerned that closing the border could have “unintended consequences” such as “in reluctant illegal residents, in increased offshoring of industry and jobs, in cross-border smuggling and crime or … in a whole new set of foreign policy problems.” The U.S. would be wise to prepare for any additional concerns that could arise.
A third prong of the solution to stop undocumented aliens is to eliminate some of the magnets that draw them to the United States. Some of those magnets are jobs, government benefits, and talk of amnesty. The current law eliminates legal work for illegal aliens. It requires employers to “verify that an individual whom they plan to employ or continue to employ in the United States is authorized to accept employment in the United States…. No alien may accept employment in the United States unless they have been authorized to do so.” Laws and executive orders are currently in place to prevent illegal aliens from working in the U.S. or receiving welfare, but laws must be enforced to accomplish their purposes.
According to the figures provided by Rector and Richwine, the subject of amnesty should also be addressed at some point. Their report discourages amnesty for undocumented aliens by clearly defining the current costs of illegal immigration and stating that the costs would increase drastically if amnesty was declared. More studies such as the one completed by Rector and Richwine could put more light on the subject of amnesty.
This post discusses the costs of building a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. There will be costs in addition to the construction price for the barrier. Will the United States save enough money with fewer illegal aliens living in the nation to pay for the costs of preventing them? The next post will present my position on how secure the southern border should be to provide safety and security for people on both sides of the southern boundary of the United States.