Illegal Immigration Concerns: To Build or Not to Build

IN A RECENT CNN Internet poll, 87% of respondents supported the building of a security fence along the entire length of the U.S.-Mexican border.

In case you didn’t know, proposals for just such a measure are being bandied about by politicians and advocacy groups even as you read this. Estimates of the cost range from around $1.4 billion dollars for a simple (yet no doubt effective) wall similar to a garden-variety highway sound barrier all the way up to a double-fenced, barbed wire-and-ditch affair reminiscent of Israel’s troubled borders that could top $8 billion to construct…

To put this in perspective, prosecuting a single month of the Iraq war costs around $4 billion, and to bolster the existing Border Patrol sufficiently to be as effective as such a fence would likely be could cost as much as $10 billion annually, according to pro-fence advocate groups. Currently, the Border Patrol operates on a roughly $1.4 billion annual budget, and employs more than 12,000 people to patrol our borders ineffectively.

Is the cost worth it? To me, it’s a no-brainer, especially in the post-9/11 world.

However, to install such a fence would likely mean NOT expanding the Border Patrol, a goal the current presidential administration has pledged to achieve — and one that any politician worth his salt would recognize as a surefire way to be able to say he (or she) created new jobs, increased income tax revenue and bolstered our nation’s security. These are talking points a politician from ANY party would have trouble passing up on. Building such a fence does none of these things, except in the very short term, during its construction. Aside from this, a fence around the Land of the Free is a grating image for many to imagine. It just seems so un-American…

But does that mean we shouldn’t do it?

Israel’s fences have reportedly cut terrorist attacks by 95% in some embattled areas. And one new San Diego-area fence — a mere 14-miler — has already dramatically slashed the number of illegals crossing in one high-traffic area, Border officials say.

Illegal Immigration Concerns: Does a Fence Make (Dollars and) Sense?

I probably don’t have to tell you that the illegal immigration issue is rapidly coming to a head. In fact, it may be shaping up into the marquis issue in coming national elections. A recent Rasmussen poll (comprised of an equal percentage of Republicans and Democrats) indicates that 75% of Americans feel that a candidate’s stance on illegal immigration is either “somewhat” or “very” important to them in presidential and congressional elections. And of course, I probably don’t need to tell you that there are compelling arguments on both sides of the equation…

Those with a hard-line stance on the matter are quick to cite:

· The abundant crime among illegals (Example: 95% of all L.A. homicide warrants are against undocumented immigrants)

· The rampant drug traffic facilitated by the lax U.S./Mexican border (an estimated 75% of the country’s illicit drugs come through this unplugged hole)

· The tremendous burden on the health care system (confidentiality laws prohibit alerting authorities to the millions of illegals that receive medical care)

· The millions, maybe billions, of dollars in lost tax revenue (illegals suck up wage money, yet most pay virtually no income taxes on it).

However, others are quick to remind us that illegals (those who are working, that is, and not just here to sell narcotics or cash in on the free health care) help keep costs down in many industries vital to the economy — like the farming, construction, custodial, child care, housekeeping, hospitality, landscaping, shipping, day labor, and other businesses. All told, this fiscal impact is significant…

Some financial analysts predict that if the flow of illegal immigrants from the south were all of a sudden to dry up — or if all of those currently working in this country were to be rounded up and deported overnight — the U.S. economy would be thrust into an instant recession. They maintain things like:

· The housing market (bubble) would stall as the cost of new home construction skyrocketed in the absence of off-the-books tradesmen

· The price of food and groceries would explode as the No. 1 source of cheap, seasonal agricultural labor evaporated

· The expense of travel and lodging would soar if custodians, maintenance men, and porters would have to be documented U.S. citizens

· The price of dining out would balloon as many of the restaurant industry’s kitchen workers headed south — along with their employers’ balance sheets

· The cost of shipping would skyrocket as dock-workers’ unions monopolized their industry while cheap loading and package-handling labor disappeared.

I’ve been conflicted in the past about this issue myself. Some pro-illegal immigration advocates make convincing cases that illegals bring far more to the party than they take away. And as the debate shapes up, we’ll no doubt hear even more about whether fencing off our border with Mexico really makes sense from a dollars-and-cents standpoint.

But I, for one, have already concluded that it does — even if it doesn’t. Keep reading and you’ll learn exactly what I mean…

Illegal Immigration Concerns: The New Rio Grande — of Dinero!

Whichever side of the immigration “fence” you’re on, it’s easy to see that the whole situation’s a Catch-22, a quagmire — one in which there are no easy solutions. One thing’s for sure, however: The problem won’t just go away. The rate of invasion by illegals has grown exponentially over the last decade, and if it keeps up at its historical rate, America could conceivably be peopled with more illegal immigrants than bona fide citizens in just another few decades or so…

This is the possibly unavoidable condition that has many people arguing whether illegal immigration is a boon to our economy or not (the fact that it’s blatantly contrary to our Constitution and other laws seems rarely to come up). The rationale behind this, I guess, is that if the trend can be shown to be beneficial in some way, the fact that it’s philosophically and legally repugnant becomes a less important consideration.

Be all this as it may, I’ve become convinced that on the balance, illegal immigration is much more of a drain on America than a boost to it. The latest evidence of this came from current Mexican President Vicente Fox — as he denounced recent proposals in the United States calling for the construction of a barrier along the U.S.-Mexican border. According to Reuters and other sources, Fox called the proposal “disgraceful” and claimed that such security measures would violate immigrants’ rights (whatever that means — how can noncitizens have rights?).

Keep in mind that Fox can’t be re-elected next year, so there’s no direct political hay to be made by actively resisting border security. So why would he speak out like this? The only possible reason is simply that he knows exactly what side his nation’s “bread” is buttered on. Obviously, he’s far more aware than the average American elected official of the millions — more likely billions — in U.S. dollars that flow back into Mexico from illegals paid under the table sending money to their families south of the border. It’s a new Rio Grande of south-flowing cash, and Fox doesn’t want it to dry up because no more of Mexico’s sons and daughters (especially pregnant ones) can make the jump…

Keep in mind that all of that American dinero is propping up Mexico’s economy, enabling (relative) prosperity without a single additional penny being expended by the Mexican government for business assistance, infrastructure development, social programs, or aggressive re-engineering of the commercial climate toward production and profitability — ostensibly the goals of NAFTA and other trade policies. In short, every U.S. dollar that flows into Mexico without being in exchange for a good, service, or commodity weakens our economy, while doing nothing to spur our southern neighbor’s advancement into the First World and ultimately into a position where more substantial and meaningful trade agreements might be forged (especially for oil).

Harsh as it is to say, it’s like giving money to a derelict: As long as he can sustain himself on donation money, he has no incentive to clean up, straighten out, and start producing on his own.

Oh, and by the way, all this is not to mention the fact that Fox is exporting a huge chunk of his crime problem to the “greener” pastures in America. Mexico’s drug thugs aren’t stupid — they know there’s way more profit to be made on their wares in L.A. than in their largely dirt-poor homeland. This is a large part of the illegal immigration equation. Tales of brazen, rifle-toting “coyotes” (drug runners) appear more often in the news with every passing month. In many areas along the border, ranchers, miners, and property owners are afraid to venture out onto their own lands–especially after dark. According to some articles I’ve read, the nightly traffic of both human and narcotic cargo is so heavy in some zones that the trash and debris they leave behind is becoming an environmental hazard.

When you think about it, doing nothing about illegal immigration to the United States (except facilitating it) is an ingenious play on Fox’s part: His six-year legacy will very likely include a period of reduced crime and increased GNP as more and more American dollars sent home flood the Mexican market. In fact, according to an article in The Miami Herald from last week, Fox is so concerned about keeping the border open that he’s hired the same Texas PR firm that helped George W. Bush defeat Ann Richards for the Texas governorship in 1994 (and clandestinely won Fox his own election) to help favorably “spin” the immigration issue on the Hill and in the American public’s eyes…

But all numbers, spin, and arguments aside; if the fact that a corrupt foreign president vehemently supports it isn’t evidence enough that illegal immigration is bad for America, I don’t know what could be. It’s all irrelevant, though. Whether the presence of illegals favors America’s bottom line or not — even if they clearly and indisputably benefit our economy — illegal immigration still shouldn’t be allowed…

So what do we do about it — besides building the fence, that is?

I’ve got some ideas, and most of them revolve around one core concept that seems to elude most everyone nowadays: an American national identity.

Illegal Immigration Concerns: Soul Drain in the Land of the FREE

It wasn’t all that long ago when America still had a strong sense of national identity — a national soul, if you will. We were a people that would bear the burden, time and again, no matter the cost. A people who fought for and believed in fairness and equality — even if it meant turning our entire system and way of life upside down (which we’ve done time and again).

It was this vision that attracted immigrants — they came here to be the best they could be in a place that would allow them to hold onto their own strengths, beliefs, and desires while assimilating into a greater singular identity they could take pride in. They came here because this kind of self-determination simply was not possible anywhere except in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Since this nation’s beginnings, we’ve been known as a diverse and eclectic people who were united in a common support of the rule of law, the U.S. Constitution, and the esoteric idea of the American Way.

That “Way,” as I see it, is to mine the strength our diversity invests us with to find solutions to the problems that have plagued or defeated other societal models through the ages. In other words, to bring together the best of what those who seek to become truly American have to offer into one democratic system that works (and it does, for the most part). The innovation, gumption, ingenuity, idealism, toleration and sacrifice it takes to achieve this end IS our collective identity, our national soul…

But I wonder: Is this still the case?

Illegal Immigration Concerns: Do Immigrants Have Soul?

Is our national identity as perceived by those who hope to join us — either as naturalized citizens or as border-hoppers — still this same timeless ideal? Is America still the place to come to be the best you can possibly be, to change your stars and be part of something truly great? Or has America simply become the place to find comparatively high-paying employment, suckle up the benefits that only the Land of the FREE offers, score a cheap world-class education, or perpetrate crimes while basking in the protection of a system that holds sacred the sovereignty of the individual?

Think about it: If illegal immigrants were flooding across our southern border to take part in the great experiment in democracy and equality that is America — to literally become American — why aren’t they all making a beeline to their local INS office to start the process for legal naturalized citizenship? Why aren’t they walking up to Border Patrol agents waving white flags and asking for asylum?

In Part 2 of this essay, I’ll tell you why I think our national soul and the idea of the American Way are dying, and how it’s affecting the immigration picture. I’ll also talk about some ways I think we can restore our national identity — and make it once again something foreign people will aspire to achieve for themselves, even if it means risking everything…

After all, those are the kinds of immigrants that made our country great, and the kind that will continue to do so tomorrow — if we don’t lose (or sell off) the soul of America first.

Until then — defending what’s de-fence-able,

Jim Amrhein

January 9, 2006

The Daily Reckoning