Immigration is a major factor in the wealth and economic success of the US. The Statue of Liberty has long been a famous landmark for immigrants wanting to prosper in a stable nation. Many of those people would be considered illegal immigrants in todays terms. The statue has also been a target for nativists who list immigrants as the cause of pollution, housing shortages, [and] disease and categorize immigration as the onslaught of anarchists, communists, and other alleged subversives (NPS, 2015).
This rhetoric is strikingly familiar to that presented by the President as an attempt to unite the nation over the humanitarian crisis occurring along the southern border of the US (Trump, 2019). The declaration of a national emergency over border security among claims of wrongdoing committed by illegal immigrants shows that this divide is still relevant.
Before continuing, the concepts of a humanitarian crisis and a national emergency should be put into perspective. Famines, violent civil wars, epidemics, and economic instability on a national level are all considered humanitarian crises.
An estimated 18 million food insecure people in North Korea, droughts affecting food supply and crippling the economy in several African and Middle Eastern countries, and mass emigration to avoid forced conscription or gender-based violence are all prime examples of current crises (Moitozo, 2018). Along those lines, the authority to declare a national emergency has been given to the president to trigger the emergency services that exist in other legislation to protect the public from eminent disaster. Prior national emergencies have been declared following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic (ASTHO, 2013).
Influxes in immigrants entering a country is not a humanitarian crisis, though in an unstable nation it could cause one, and the described influxes at the US border are not actually occurring. According to Noreen O’Donnell in a January 2019 article on the NBC News website, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported just over 300,000 apprehensions for illegal border crossings in 2017, the lowest in more than 45 years and down from more than 1.6 million in 2000. ODonnell (2019) goes on to explain that illegal immigration by border crossing accounts for only a third of the illegal immigrants in the US. The consensus among reports estimates that the other two thirds of the illegal immigrants in the US arrived legally and stayed after their visas expired. Moreover, many immigrants crossing the border are doing so to seek asylum from South American countries that are experiencing actual humanitarian crises (ODonnell, 2019).
The President also made the claim that illegal immigration causes an increase in violent crime. This was supported by anecdotal evidence of illegal immigrants who have been accused, but not convicted, of committing violent crimes in the US. To the contrary, a Time Magazine online article by Martinez & Abrams (2019) cites multiple studies published by independent scientists and institutions showing that native born US citizens are far more likely (at least 16% and up to 67%) to commit a violent crime in the US. ODonnell (2019) adds immigration populations have been growing as the rates of violent crime have dropped, and that [m]ost studies have found no connection between immigrants and crime or have shown that immigrants revitalize neighborhoods.
Though care was taken to remain unbiased in resource selection and inclusion, the effect of the polarization of the political environment on this paper and its usefulness in future research in currently unknown. Articles used in this literature review were chosen from scholarly search engine results and government publications. Supporting material was sourced from prominent news productions, including The New York Times, Time Magazine, NBC News, and Forbes Magazine. Although the former is a source of vetted and factually sound material, the latter sources are prone to bias and misinformation or a misrepresentation of facts. These sources were chosen because there is no selection among scholarly work to capture the sentiment of US citizens amid the shutdown. Care was taken to avoid bias and to include only information pertaining to the research question that was void of any obvious political affiliation among these sources.
The Google Scholar search engine was the main tool used to select relevant articles for the literature review. The scholarly articles were studied and compared for information on the causes and effects of government shutdowns. Prior government shutdowns were compared to the current situation regarding duration, causes, and effects. These articles related only to government shutdowns in a general sense and did not address immigration policy or its direct effect on prior events. No articles involving immigration policy specifically were utilized for the literature review.
Supporting material was chosen from reputable sources that addressed the concept of a national emergency, a humanitarian crisis, and/or provided immigration specific statistics. Material from political organizations, human rights organizations, and regional news media were not included as resources for this review. The material was used to emphasize specific effects of the shutdown and expand upon the validity of the Presidents reasoning for the wall. Verifiable statistical information found in the supporting material was utilized in the literature review. The combination of scholarly and public sources was necessary to cover the broad topic of government shutdowns and factors affecting immigration policy in relation to the wall.
The analysis of the scholarly articles reviewed showed the general cause of government shutdowns to be the failure to approve a federal budget for the fiscal year. This cause is generic at best and does not allow for comparison of specific issues that caused budgetary impasses. Speculation of the causes of prior shutdowns could be made by comparing the major events to the time frame of the prior shutdowns. For the purposes of this research paper, no speculations were made and no articles listing individual budget related issues were studied.
From a nonpartisan viewpoint, the most recent shutdown does not differ from any of the others concerning proximate causes. The exact cause of 2018-2019 shutdown was the inability to approve a federal budget that contained funding specifically allocated for border security and the now infamous wall. This shutdown was ended with the passage of continuing resolutions similar to the other shutdowns discussed in the literature review. The difference in this incident, however, centered around partisan rather than ideological concerns. The President specifically named the Democratic party as the cause of the shutdown among other unsavory humanitarian flaws. The President further claimed that the only solution was for the Democratic party to essentially bend to the whims of the self-proclaimed commander-in-chief of the American public (Trump, 2019). Pushing past the partisan blame game, the President made certain factual assertions that supposedly supported the need for the wall.
The insistence of the President on the need for heightened border security hinged on increased violent crime. The crime rates were used to suggest that the wall will have the same supposed effect along the rest of the border that a fence did in 2008 in El Paso (Shjarback & Manjarrez, 2019). Unfortunately, the President used a poor example in El Paso. The historical crime rates in El Paso were certainly higher than they are currently, but that holds true for the state of Texas and the national average. Figure 1.1 shows the trends in violent crime from 1985 to 2014 for the US and El Paso. By 2008, crime rates in El Paso were equal to the US average.
Figure 1.1 FBI Violent Crime Statistics
Homicides were a specific concern that the President raised during the address. Figure 1.2 shows the violent crime rates and homicide rates for cities within 100 miles of the US-Mexico border during 2015. Had the President been more knowledgeable, highlighting crime rates in Arizona and California would have made more sense. The homicide rate in El Paso is roughly half of that of the national average. Skewed and outright flawed data connecting violent crime and illegal immigrants have been used over several decades to perpetuate beliefs such as those held by the President (Ousey & Kubrin, 2009).
Aside from the misinformation communicated during the address, there is also the proposed, expected, and actual costs of building the wall. The proposed cost has been set by the President at 5.7 billion dollars (Trump, 2019). The expected cost for the wall has been conservatively estimated at $15 billion for the entire length of the US-Mexico border by Senator Mitch McConnell, keeping in mind that 670 miles of current fencing cost roughly $5 billion (Drew, 2017). The actual cost includes the $15 billion expected cost for erecting the wall along with the $12 to $24 billion estimated cost of the government shutdown based on costs from the 2013 shutdown (Keefe, 2018). That brings the conservative price tag of the investment to $27 billion, well over the requested $5.7 billion, and that does not include the cost of deportations of illegal immigrants in the US or the $750 million per year for maintenance after construction is finished (Drew, 2017).
This price does not account for the projected long-term cost of staffing or additional courts and attorneys to address asylum claims that will likely increase as a means for people to legally enter the US. Costs for increased coast guard patrol to stop illegal immigration by way of the Caribbean Sea should be factored in considering the proximity of the Mexican and Texas coast lines. Costs of increased staff to monitor and enforce visa rules for legal immigrants, and costs associated with more stringent TSA rules to eliminate potential increased illegal immigration by plane are also worth estimating. This sampling of additional costs does not contain all possibilities and some of the potential projected costs may never be incurred. Aside from the $5.7 billion initial cost of the wall, untold billions of dollars would need to be allocated towards general border control expenses to completely stop illegal immigration into the US. In short, the cost of the wall is infinite, or at least far greater than can be comprehended, because it is symbolic of a need to revive isolationism and nativism being expressed by the President.
The shutdown should not and would not have occurred had the President and Congress put aside political agendas for the sake of maintaining a functioning government. Countries around the world struggle with border security, sometimes with deadly consequences, but also understand the need for continuous governmental control. For better or worse, native born individuals have the potential to commit crimes, become employed in a way that disadvantages more qualified individuals, and to avoid paying taxes. These examples are just some of the inconceivably long list of commonalities between native born and immigrant individuals. The hostage negotiation-like tactics being employed by the President to get funding for the wall cannot and will not save Americans from themselves.
The cost of the wall cannot be contained to a monetary figure. It is difficult to quantify the cost of losing an endangered species or illnesses due to poor food quality, but those are legitimate costs associated with the government shutdown and the wall. As the 2018-2019 shutdown continued, Forbes.com published articles with titles like Chamber Of Commerce CEO Urges Government To End Shutdown, Cites Intensifying Human Suffering, What The Government Shutdown Means For Food Safety, and Joshua Trees Were In Trouble Before The Shutdown, Now They’re Being Killed In Their National Park (Touryalai, 2019). Human suffering, food safety concerns, and wholesale destruction of wilderness areas are some of the exact reasons many immigrants have fled countries for the US.
Increased humanitarian aid, TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) programs and school sponsorships, and manpower, supplies, and/or money to rebuild crumbling infrastructures are all more legitimate uses for the funds necessary to build the wall. To squelch the supposed immigration crisis, a better use of resources would be to address these reasons why immigrants are leaving certain countries. Rebuilding and strengthening the power grid in Venezuela would significantly improve living conditions, which in turn would reduce the desire for Venezuelans to emigrate elsewhere (Urdaneta, 2019). Aiding the Colombian government in stabilizing the economy and controlling the production of narcotics would increase personal safety and decrease the need for Colombians to flea for their lives.
The proposed solutions to the border security issue do not come without risks. Providing funding to a foreign government does not guarantee that the money will be used for its intended purpose. The health and safety of Americans providing aid abroad could be put in jeopardy if a conflict or natural disaster occurs. Diverting military personnel to a wider range of foreign countries could make each mission less successful than if larger units helped fewer nations. Political coups could undermine any efforts associated with stabilizing a sovereign nation. A massive meteorite could strike the Earth off the coast of Mexico, like the event that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. The point being, utilization of funds for proven methods of improving living conditions and economic stability outweighs potential risks.
Rather than encouraging countries to give us their tired, poor, and hungry masses, it should be a priority to eliminate the conditions leading to the need for the iconic phrase welcoming immigrants into the US. Bernat (2017) agrees with this view and asserts that [t]he United States and other nations that focus on border security may be misplacing their efforts, and must accept that poverty and war, among other social conditions , should be addressed by governments when enforcing immigration laws and policy (p.1). The 2018-2019 government shutdown was fueled by what amounted to hate speech and the continuation of misrepresented statistics about immigrants and crime, among other factors. The wall cannot be a solution to a problem that does not exist