Chants of “build the wall” always annoyed me. People saying Mexico would pay for it confounded me. I do not like illegal immigration but I also think we can not ignore our neighbor and ally to the south with a population over 120 million. Almost eighty percent of Mexicans think we are a good neighbor and I am willing to bet most of them do not support the wall. But wait for a second, why should we care what Mexico thinks? Simple, we do not live in a vacuum. We export almost 200 billion worth of goods to Mexico and import almost 300 billion. That makes them one of our three largest trade partners. We get vehicles, food, machinery and medical equipment from Mexico. All these imports increase the value Americans experience by providing goods they could otherwise not get or afford (strawberries in the winter) and by providing low-cost goods which allow for further investment in goods or labor because we have more money. When economists were asked if they thought trade with Mexico made the average American better off, not one said they thought it did not.
But that may not convince economic nationalists who supported Donald Trump. But those people do not like (illegal) immigration. Right now, the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico is declining because their economy is getting better. In fact, illegal immigrants as a percent of the entire population have been declining since 2009, although slightly. The number of illegal immigrants in the US from latin America has actually declined from 2008 to 2012 and given the continued decline of illegal immigration, it is safe to assume that trend continued.
If you want to see illegal immigration from Mexico and latin America turn around then politically irritate them. Right now the two of the three leading Mexican political parties are center and centre-right but the third would bring Venezuela to our border. By turning Mexican sentiment against America and towards left-wing populism and nationalism we would do just that. After the Mexican Peso collapsed in 1994 the number of Mexicans apprehended at the border spiked from a 1,000,000 to 1,750,000 over the next few years. The best anti-illegal immigrant policy would be to expand free trade and promote economic liberalization.
Former homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano once said, “You show me a 50-foot wall, and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.” It is relatively easy to get past a wall, all you need it to find an unguarded area and get a ladder or dig a tunnel, sneak in through trucks or buy a plane ticket and overstay your visa. Given the shift away from Latin America to Asia, it is easy to imagine the increase in illegal immigrants coming through the air. But what about Israel? They have a border wall/fence and it works so why can it not work for us? Simple, the Israeli border is 80 miles along densely populated areas while the American border is almost 2,000 miles along a lot of desert. In Israel, the border barrier only needed to slow down crossers for a few minutes while it would take a lot longer for American border patrol to respond.
Trump’s wall would cost fifteen to twenty-five billion, assuming he doesn’t rebuild parts of the border barrier already built and it will be a fence, 750 million to maintain yearly and 1.4 billion to man with border agents. I would argue that it would be easier, better, and, likely, cheaper, to simply use drones to monitor the border. It costs less than $4,000 an hour to operate a drone on the border. That means we can operate 28 drones non-stop at one time for a whole year and spend less than a billion dollars and you can not climb over a drone.