Category Archives: politcs

The myth of the wall

BorderAtJacumba2

1414203158407

I’ve written about immigration policy before, and this is not that kind of post.

Instead, I am addressing a conventional fiction that “there is no wall” on the border of Mexico and the US. I’ve found that this is a surprisingly widespread belief.

The border
The total length of the border is just under 2,000 miles. Roughly half of that distance is the Rio Grande (which gave rise to the derogatory term for Mexican immigrants, wetback, as many illegals used to swim the river to get to the US).

Securing the border
In 1994, a National Border Patrol Strategic Plan started the process of improving security on the border to stem the flow of illegal immigration. The post-9/11 war on terror gave this attempt a big boost, with the Bush administration pushing hard to build a fence and ultimately passing a series of laws.

In other words, we have had legislation in place for many years to build the wall. And it’s largely funded.

Quite a bit of the wall has been built
So far, the US has built roughly 600 miles of fence. Taking out the river, we’re more than halfway there.

(The remaining land is handled by the Border Patrol and various infrared and technical contraptions.)

The Rio Grande
Now, here’s where it gets complicated: AP_BORDER_FENCE_WILDLIFEWe have this big river, the Rio Grande.

Putting a fence in a river causes all kinds of environmental problems, which even if you’re a conservative, are cause for some concern (I live in Florida, and have seen the damage that the Tamiani Trail did to the Everglades, and while a porous fence isn’t nearly as bad as a dam, there are some real issues at stake here.)

No worries! In 2006, the Real ID Act was passed, which, in part, gave the Secretary of Homeland Security (then Michael Chertoff) the ability to waive environmental regulations in this context. He really wanted a wall, so he did just that.

Yet, we still don’t have a fence completed.

A major problem is the fact that there are three Native American reservations that sit on the border in Arizona. This leaves a gap in the “wall” which is occupied by sovereign Indian nations.

Most notable is the Tohono O’odham reservation, which is huge — about the size of Connecticut — and includes the vast Sonora Desert. Citing its sovereignty, it once successfully barred the Border Patrol from entering the reservation. They’ve since changed their tune, since now, this opening in the border has driven drug smugglers into the area (as well as illegals, who are dying in the thousands trying to cross the Sonoran Desert).

This is a major issue: we have to figure out a way to build a wall through a sovereign Indian nation. It’s not insignificant. Imagine a wall going through your own neighborhood — the Native Americans are not crazy about this idea. And we can’t move the border south, nor north. It has to be a wall right through these Indian nations.

In other words, it’s a bit more complicated than a simple stump speech.

My Dystopian Vision
FOT1213780I talked to a Trump supporter recently in San Francisco. I asked him how he thought Trump would fix the economy.

“He’s going to get rid of all those fucking illegal immigrants,” he said, enthusiastically*.

So here’s my dystopian vision:

Trump enters office. Since “The Wall” is already approved and funded (by us, not Mexico, who will tell us to fuck off), it finally gets built.

Yay for Trump.

But then there’s the nagging problem of all of those “fucking illegals”. Trump wants forced deportation.

The last time that happened, the program, Operation Wetback, was stopped after Mexicans started dying in a trial of tears (we’re so good at this trial of tears thing, aren’t we?).

But what if, as some speculate, the military or others won’t follow his orders?

I see those, like my San Francisco Trump supporter, who will become effectively “brown shirts” for Mr. Trump.

I’m not making this up. Look at the protests. Watch Cartel Land, with citizen paramilitary outfits taking shots at Mexicans. The stuff going on right now is crazy.

Perhaps they will be called “Trumpeters” or some such name.  I expect they will bang on the doors, wrench the illegals out of their homes, and probably engage in a bit of good old-fashioned pillaging.

Outlandish? Not really. We’ve had plenty of paramilitary groups in our nation’s history. 

It’s only one of the disasters I foresee with a Trump presidency.

————–

* A silly statement. Getting rid of 11 million illegals will do nothing positive for our economy. It might very well crater it. The real problems — the massive national debt, the Federal Reserve hell-bent on printing money into ridiculous asset bubbles, massive spending on the military instead of national infrastructure, well… those are some of the real problems. Further simplistic arguments by Trump about taking on waste and fraud in the government? A drop in the bucket. 

I’m not in favor of illegal immigration at all, but getting rid of the people who pick our lettuce, wash our dishes and clean our cars isn’t going to do a thing to help the economy. Illegals are easy scapegoats, they always have been, but they are not the correct reason WHY things aren’t going well in our country.

The Immigration Paradox

Citizenship

Economics is about incentive. You get what you reward.

And our system of immigration has perverse incentives which are causing economic damage to our country.

The Immigration Paradox

Why are American technology companies off-shoring to other countries?

The obvious answer is cost. And that is true, cost is a benefit, but I would argue it’s of far lesser importance these days. (The cost of having an off-shored development team is far higher than people imagine, due to inefficiencies in teamwork, cultural differences, time zones, etc.)

There is another, hidden, problem, which I call the Immigration Paradox.

1. When a country makes immigration difficult, educated talent that is needed can’t come into the country.

2. This, in turn, forces business in that country to go offshore in order to get that talent, hurting the country’s economy.

And it’s exactly what’s happening in the United States.

Why are Apple’s computers and phones made in China? The immediate, snap answer is cost. Well, actually, that isn’t the complete answer. A more correct answeer is that Apple was unable to get the amount of engineers it needed in the United States, which forced them to go overseas (Apple, for many years, had their manufacturing in the United States).

Running a manufacturing operation in the US is productive. Simple things like stable electrical power, infrastructure, ease of transportation  — all these things are taken for granted, but are really meaningful in manufacturing. But it means nothing if you don’t have the engineers available in high tech.

The argument that there are “perfectly qualified people in the US willing to take the jobs” is disingenuous. Believe me, I’ve been there. At my last company, we would spend months trying to hire software development talent, and couldn’t get enough of them. I found plenty of great talent outside of the country, but getting those people in was nearly impossible.

So I ended up setting up off-shore development centers.

I really wanted these people in the United States. But I couldn’t get them in. It can cost upwards of a $100k to bring a software developer into the country; the hassles are legendary. And your chances of being successful are low.

It’s always been fairly difficult to bring in educated immigrants. Post 9/11, it’s extremely difficult.

This is why Mark Zuckerberg and others are trying to bring more overseas talent into the country.

And so, American businesses go to Romania, or Ukraine, or India, or wherever, to get the access to the talent. And our economy suffers.

We don’t have to make them citizens. But we should make it much easier to get a work visa.

But what about those horrible illegals?  They are criminals! They are rapists and murderers!

Now that discussion is different. I am talking above about getting work visas for smart people to boost our own economy.

But…while I’m on the general subject, I’ll go there.

The argument starts with “legal immigrants are fine (I myself am a child of immigrants!), but it’s the illegals who are terrible. They rape and pillage and steal and murder and all kinds of other awful stuff!”

Let’s start by pointing out that undocumented immigration is not spiraling out of control, it’s actually down from 12 million in 2007 to about 8 million now (you’d never know it if you listened to the news, though).

Furthermore, immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than natives (I know that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people who listen to talk radio, but it’s the truth).

Then, let’s get some perspective: Given the choice between starvation and food, would you choose to (a) starve, or (b) eat? I would hope your answer would be (b). Undocumented workers come into the country because they need the work to survive.

And calling them “criminals” is a bit misleading. You see, they can’t really get in legally themselves.

Sure, there are “guest worker” programs, but these are a) a bureaucratic nightmare and b) rife with exploitation. That’s why many Latinos come over the border illegally.

Farmers need cheap labor. If you want to go out and pick lettuce in 110º heat for 12 hours a day, be my guest. I think you’ll find almost zero interest in Americans in doing this kind of labor. Restaurants need cheap labor. If you want to wash dishes all day, be my guest. But again, you won’t find many Americans willing to slave away washing dishes at minimum wage.

The immigrants do the jobs we’re not willing to do.

The political answer is simple: Make it a straightforward process to bring workers into the country, under effective guest worker programs. Document them. Tax them. Track them. But erecting massive walls to keep them out is really not a solution.

The cost of illegal immigration

There is also a disingenuous argument that undocumented immigration is destroying the country’s economy and causing high taxes. This is not backed by data. The CBO itself has determined that 70-80% of undocumented workers pay Federal, State and Local taxes, and $7 billion per year to Social Security. In Texas alone, over $18 billion per year is added to the state budget by undocumented immigrants. Again, the facts are lost.

Let’s take the position that there is, in fact, a cost. Fine. But then, that’s even a stronger argument for documenting them, isn’t it? Let’s document them, and tax them.

Incidentally, the Great Wall of China didn’t work (and it wasn’t an immigration wall, it was to guard against invasions from the Mongol steppe tribes, as Mr. Trump recently learned for the first time). Walls don’t work.

In closing

Undocumented immigrants are easy targets. They are poor, can’t represent themselves, and they’re, well, different. But scapegoating another race or class of individual has never worked well historically. The truth is that a country needs a steady stream of fresh immigrants to survive. We need the educated immigrants to continue to fuel our technology boom; we need the uneducated immigrants to pick our lettuce; we need immigrants to breathe life into an economy; and finally, we need immigrants to create a healthy population pyramid (unlike xenophobic Japan, for example, whose anti-immigration policies are destroying their economy).

For my part, I just want to see a reasonable, sensible discussion based on common sense and facts. Not wild, unjustified opinions.

That would be a good start.