Why we don’t need to build a border wall…for now

Yesterday, USA Today ran a front page story about the Trump Administration’s plan for border security which included the much-discussed “wall.”  While border security enhancements are appropriate, I believe the wall can be put off…for now anyway.  Trump’s actions have had the effect of a wall without the cost or controversy the actual construction of one would entail.

Walls can and do work.  For example, earlier this year PolitiFact found that Sen. Ron Johnson’s claim that “Israel cut its illegal immigration rate by ‘99 percent’ by constructing a 143-mile fence along its southern border” to be “mostly true.” However, that doesn’t mean that the U.S. currently needs a border wall.

Why?  Trump’s various pronouncements (including his travel ban orders) seem to have had the effect of stemming illegal border crossings.  In April, for example, illegal border crossings were the “lowest in 17 years.”  Although the latest figures from U.S. Customs and Protection show an uptick in August, the numbers still “represent a 41 percent decrease as compared to August of 2016, and year-to-date totals for FY 2017 are 24 percent lower than the same period in FY 2016.”

Ironically, it wasn’t long ago that the media was forecasting dire effects on the travel industry because of Trump’s policies.  However, as US News reported in July, the “Trump slump that the U.S. tourism industry worried about has not materialized, and in fact some say there might even be a Trump bump.”  The latest figures from the U.S. Travel Association (released October 3rd) show that the upswing continues:

[The Current Travel Index of] 51.8 in August 2017 shows that travel to and within the U.S. grew 3.6% in August 2017 compared to August 2016. LTI predicts continued travel growth through February 2018, as solid domestic travel demand adds to modest gains in international inbound travel. (Emphasis added).

Many also expressed concern for the economy which may have been unfounded. Today CNBC quoted Howard Silverblatt that the “S&P 500 alone has gained $3.4 trillion since the election day, while the stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average gained $958 billion.”  Additionally, CNBC said in mid-September that:

More than three quarters of respondents to this quarter’s CNBC Global CFO Council poll say President Donald Trump deserves at least some of the credit for the stock market’s record run in 2017, with 17.1 percent saying he deserves “most of the credit.”

And there is more: unemployment fell to a 16-year low in July, and the Labor Department just announced that the unemployment rate fell to 4.2%.  (And I’m especially pleased that the veteran unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest since 2001).  Moreover, in August, Forbes reported that consumer confidence was up 30% over 2016, and Reuters says consumer confidence also increased in September 2017.  In other words, the economy does not seem to be suffering because of border insecurity.

Still, is there a border threat to be concerned about?  Defense News reports that just this week Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, director of the Texas Joint Force Headquarters said that the “violence of drug cartels across the border is sometimes understated in America.”  His comments came during a panel discussion at the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting on Tuesday where he added:

This problem has just evolved, and one of the biggest things we lose sight of sometimes is what the threat is and how extreme the threat is,” Hamilton said. “The ruthlessness of those organizations right across our border … are a threat to our homeland, there’s no question about it.

Nevertheless, I think actions short of a new border wall may better address this threat.  Although I don’t agree with everything in yesterday’s USA Today editorial on the subject, much does make sense.  The Editorial Board calls for enhancements of the existing fence where needed, tougher workplace enforcement of immigration laws, and “revisiting a 2008 anti-trafficking law that led to an increase in unaccompanied minors arriving from Central American nations.”  In addition, they say that “increased personnel and greater use of surveillance drones would be more effective than fixed barriers.”

Given that most Americans oppose the border wall, it seems that it would be better to implement such initiatives as the USA Today editorial suggests before incurring the expense – and controversy – of wall construction.  Sure, if the facts change, re-evaluate, but as for now, it may be wiser for the Administration to take credit for the security and economic improvements already taking place, and focus their energy on the many pressing concerns elsewhere.

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