A wall to separate us from reason
I would like to share my article published by The Hill.
How did President Trump go from a simple campaign promise — “the wall” — devised by political advisers for a candidate who “hated reading from a script,” to threats of a national emergency and an executive-led shutdown that has held 800,000 government workers and their families hostage for the longest period in U.S. history? A move that, paradoxically leaves the US far less safe, from TSA agents to immigration enforcement, to food safety— all for what national security experts agree to be nothing more than a colossally ineffective symbol with a $5.7 billion to $20 billion price tag. A wall that, tellingly, every congressman from a district along the U.S.-Mexico border opposes.
In Mexico, we recognize, that if there was truly a national security emergency at the Southern border surely President Trump would begin, at the very least, by confirming a U.S. ambassador to our country, a position that has sat vacant since last May. Or, for another, he could utilize the millions in border security funding that the US Congress provided last year, but the president’s administration has not spent (roughly 40 percent of the total remains).
On both sides of the border, we now find ourselves in a dangerous geopolitical situation. No, it’s not migration. It’s the lengths to which the president is willing to go, or who he is willing to hurt, to deliver his most memorable campaign slogan — a promise that is increasingly being tied to his future electoral success.
On both sides of the border, we now find ourselves in a dangerous geopolitical situation. No, it’s not migration.
With a job approval rating at just 39 percent, Trump is grabbing media attention to fire up his voters. From withholding federal workers’ paychecks, to threats of coopting disaster relief from devastation in California, Texas, and Puerto Rico, to cruelly separating children from their families and detaining them in cages— we’ve seen this alarming playbook before.
Real leadership requires more than performance. Citizens deserve more than a show; they deserve results. As a businessman, I recognize that the first step to delivering results is accurately diagnosing our challenges; only then can we identify the most effective strategy. Trump’s great wall is missing the solution precisely because his objective is unrelated to immigration, it’s a vacuous attempt to please an increasingly dissatisfied base.
We need to get back to the facts. In Mexico, we understand well that there is no migration security emergency. U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions are their lowest in two decades. Today, more Mexican migrants, and Americans, move to Mexico than the other way around.
We need to get back to the facts. In Mexico, we understand well that there is no migration security emergency.
What is changing is the face of immigration. Passing are the days defined by the lone male “economic migrant” crossing the desert into the U.S. Instead, 2018 brought a sharp rise in entire family units traveling from Central America to the border — up drastically from 7,000 in November of 2017 to over 25,000 in November 2018 — that promises to continue.
These are refugees with wrenching stories, whole villages fleeing unimaginable violence, gangs, homes burnt to the ground, death threats, children murdered, sexual assault and limbs hacked off — who have sacrificed everything to find safety. For them, asylum is life or death.
This growing humanitarian crisis will not disappear at Mexico or the U.S.’s doorstep with the appearance of a wall. Last week’s expulsion of the UN’s anti-corruption commission by the President of Guatemala is just the latest dire sign of rising authoritarianism and degradation of the Rule of Law in the region. Here in Mexico, 2018 asylum claims rose by 103 percent, and with less than 15 percent of claimants originating from the "caravans,” we can see a much larger trend developing.
This growing humanitarian crisis will not disappear at Mexico or the U.S.’s doorstep with the appearance of a wall.
If national security and immigration are truly this administration’s greatest concerns, then long-term interrelated cycles of violence and drugs that are destroying lives in the U.S., Mexico and Central America must be addressed — driven by an insatiable demand for drugs in the United States, and violence perpetrated by illegally-obtained U.S.-manufactured guns. Any effective solution for the region must involve U.S. gun control and cross-border drug-use policies. that address demand-side drivers.
Instead, Trump’s latest talking point, the imagined connection between the Central American drug trafficking and the opioid epidemic, is a misdirect from the fact that most U.S. overdoses cannot be prevented by a wall. These tragic deaths are related to prescription drugs and fentanyl smuggled from China that enter through legal ports of entry, according to Customs and Border Protection.
The same is true for the disingenuous claim that terrorists and “unknown Middle Easterners” are among these refugees. Per the State Department there is “no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States,” and like drug-seizures, the vast majority of watch-list individuals are apprehended at airports and the Canadian border.
The truth is these asylum seekers are quite the opposite of the dangerous criminals the president would have us believe. A breakdown of Customs and Border Control “criminal alien statistics” show that the ever-changing criminal record figures so oft-cited by Trump officials are, unsurprisingly, misleading. They include minor crimes such as driving violations, and 46.5% of the convictions were for the crime of border crossing itself. Some of the U.S.’s safest cities are on the U.S.-Mexico border, and, contrary to the president’s fear mongering, the U.S. also saw a 36 percent decrease in violent crimes between 1980 and 2016 as undocumented immigration rose. Indeed, several studies have found that the higher the number of foreign-born residents in an area, the lower the incidence of violent crime.
What then should real, comprehensive immigration policy look like?
Experts — conservative and liberal alike —have for decades recommended a path for legal immigration that the administration is instead working to dismantle. Study after economic study has documented that immigrants create wealth, contribute to GDP growth, and create jobs. Immigrants are a complementary labor force that fills economic needs, from agriculture to senior care, and contribute hundreds of billions in taxes each year. Without immigrant labor there are huge shortfalls in production in these sectors. Per studies from the president’s own alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, without immigrant workers U.S. GDP would fall 0.7 percent over 10 years and by 2 percent by 2040, to the detriment of all Americans. This, the President knows well, as several of his personal properties have quietly and regularly applied for extra H-2B foreign worker visas since he assumed the Presidency.
Experts have for decades recommended a path for legal immigration that the administration is instead working to dismantle.
And, of course, it is a great challenge to develop complex, long-term development efforts that address the causes of instability in Central America, but this is the hard work that is in the best interest of the US and Mexico— and Trump’s voters.
In December, Mexico committed to just such a “Marshall Plan” for Central America, with roughly $25 billion promised by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to target the root causes of migration with investment to generate opportunities. This bi-national plan was envisioned to complement US funding of $5.8 billion (adding to the $2.6 billion spent in the region over the last four years). This plan could represent hope for real change in the region, if it comes through.
The facts are clear: a wall is a poor and ineffective investment, especially when considering the much higher cost to American workers, the US government, the United States’ soft power and reputation around the world, and its relationship with Mexico, its third largest trading partner.
Just as Trump’s fixation on a wall was built brick by brick on the campaign trail—not with fact, expert, or plan— but fueled only by applause, we must now demand the opposite. In the face of Trump’s blatant politicization of this profound humanitarian challenge, we must demand evidence and think critically. Let’s throw out the optics and work for real, long-term change across borders, and together give our citizens the results they deserve.