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Wall Without Purpose

December 12, 2018

The U.S. border wall with Mexico is pointless and an utter waste of money.  That’s because according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Center for Migration Studies, approximately 2/3rds of all illegal immigrants in the United States actually came in legally.  They were issued an official federally recognized temporary visa for school, work, or travel, and then simply overstayed their terms.  One major reason for this seemingly inflated number has to do with the ratio of overstayers to border-crossers.  According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, since the year 2000, apprehension at the southern border has fallen to forty year lows.

Apprehensions-graph-ENG-1024x576
There are several reasons for this and none of which has much to do with border security.  In the world of voluntary migration, economic incentive is the greatest driver of movement.  Since 2000, Mexico’s GDP has been on a steady incline (see figure below), with a contemporary nominal GDP worth of $1.15 trillion dollars (World Bank, 2017), which is an increase of approximately $400 billion dollars.  This puts Mexico comfortably in the top 20 wealthiest nations in the world.  Sure, when checking for per capita, the average Mexican only makes about $8,900 USD annually (which ranks it at 70th place according to the IMF), but the point here is that the standard of living in Mexico has been increasing, so why move north when there’s work for you at home?  Why pay for a wall when they don’t really need to come anymore?

GDP

Another item of note that most Americans are unaware of is that with support from the Obama Administration, Mexico has increased their personal efforts into monitoring their southern border with Guatemala to restrict Central American migrants from heading north.  Mexico is one of America’s greatest allies in border patrol, but much of that effort is built on a solid foundation of geopolitical friendship between our two states.  With the Trump Administration’s recent harsh rhetoric against Latinos, his hard-line push for an expansion of wall along the Rio Grande, and nonsensical claims of forcing Mexico to pay for it, is simply creating antagonism and animus between our two countries. To simply put, Mexico’s role in monitoring their southern border is far more crucial than any physical barrier Trump could ever build in the north.

Remittance is another item that needs clarification.  It is estimated that remittances back to Mexico averages anywhere from $20-$25 billion annually- which is ironically what the Washington Post estimates for the construction of the wall (more on that below).  However, unlike a useless wall, those remittances ultimately will help reduce illegal immigration to the United States by stimulating consumption and the multiplier effect.  It is estimated that 70% of the United States’ GDP is built on consumption.  That is, the more money a population spends, the more jobs will be created to keep up with demand, which then further incentivizes consumption, which leads to even more jobs, which then will naturally reduce the desire to migrate.  Furthermore, remittance is not lost money because America is Mexico’s number one trading partner.  When a native Mexican teenager is given money that his father earned for him, he will  likely consume more American services and products like HP, Apple, Google, Facebook, etc.  When people do away with irrational nationalism, they will realize that it is in America’s best interest to help Mexico become wealthy, because the larger the Mexican middle class is, the more American goods they will be able to afford and purchase.  Think of it this way:  You own a luxurious watch company and traditionally you get 10 customers a day, but now suddenly, the overall income of the residents in the neighboring city just doubled, and wouldn’t you think they’d want that nice watch they weren’t able to afford before?  Economics and trade are not zero sum games; what is often good for Mexico is also good for America.

One of the biggest problems with the wall is that it doesn’t just keep people out, but it also keeps people in.  Traditionally, many illegal immigrants operated like seasonal migrants.  They come into the country, work for a few months or years and then go back to Mexico to spend time with friends and family, and enjoy the spoils of their labor.  As one person returns home, another enters, creating a balanced cycle.  This is known as Circular Flow.  However, with the current administration’s more draconian approach to border security, it has indeed become more difficult and dangerous for migrants to cross the border, in either direction, so more of them are opting to stay in the United States permanently- or worse yet, make a single journey north with his entire family instead of just himself.  This is the ultimate paradox and failure of the proposed border wall.  The greater the wall, the longer they will stay.

Now, perhaps the bigger concern here is with drugs and criminals who are trying to sneak in, as opposed to families.  Surely, building this wall will decrease the illegal trade of contraband and narcotics.  After all, under the proposed construction plan, each wall section would reach 30ft in height and buried 6ft underground.  Now, why the Trump Administration and their builders believe that it would be difficult for Narcs to scale or toss something over 30ft and dig beneath 6ft are beyond comprehension.  According to The Brooking Institute, from 1990 to 2016, U.S. law enforcement unearthed 224 tunnels underneath the current border, with some as deep as 70ft below surface.  It is not difficult to dig beneath 6ft, and even if digging or throwing drugs were not feasible, drug smugglers could simply fly a drone or find a new maritime route.  Remember how much cocaine was in Miami during the age of Pablo Escobar?  His drugs arrived right onto the Floridian shore, and no wall could have ever stopped him.

In a country that has crumbling infrastructure, inflated housing costs, below-average international test scores, overpriced healthcare and overpriced college, the last thing we should be spending money on is a useless wall, which is estimated to be between $12 billion (Trump’s estimates) to $70 billion (Senate Democrat’s estimates), because let’s face it:  Mexico is not paying for it.  The reason for the dramatic range has to do with topography and land acquisition.  In order to build a 2,000 mile wall, a lot of private land will need to be seized by the government either through negotiated sale or eminent domain.  The final price will ultimately depend on how much the government will have to payout for the right to build the thing.  Moreover, much of the terrain along the border is mountainous, as the Sierra Nevada’s extends itself southward.  Will Trump bulldoze a mountain?  Will he build a fence at 10,000ft elevation in case there are Latinos who are in really good shape?  Or will they just ignore this entire section, thus leaving a giant hole in the wall’s path?

In the end, the generally agreed upon estimate for Trump’s border wall should be around $25 billion dollars with an estimated $150 million annual cost for repairs.  When you divide the cost of construction with the current U.S. population, it breaks down to about $79 per person.  For that price, you could buy every single American an Amazon Echo instead, which is a much better investment than some barrier.  Alexa, what is orange and dumb as a wall?

-Ping Zhou

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