The issue of immigration has become a political weapon used to incite emotion by pitting cultures and people against each other for political purposes. We have avoided solving the problem because our politicians keep us at the extremes to get votes. We had two consecutive presidents (President Bush and President Obama) ready to work with Congress to solve this issue. Instead of showing political courage and leading, our elected officials chose to play politics by refusing to compromise on any reasonable plan. And here we are, 10 years later, with tensions high and no solution. We can do better than this.
The question about building a wall with Mexico makes for great politics if you’re of the mindset that something simple must be done about illegal immigration. But it’s not a practical solution whatsoever. First, the cost, estimated on the low end at $20 billion, is an outrageous sum of money when you consider that we could be using that concrete and labor to pour new pavement for roads or build new bridges. According to the American Road and Transportation Builder’s Association, more than 16,000 bridges in Alabama are either structurally deficient or in need of significant repair in some way. The cost to repair or replace those bridges? $29 billion dollars. Yes, that’s correct — the cost of building this proposed wall would nearly repair or replace all the crumbling bridges in Alabama. Let us keep that in perspective. This does not include the remaining 49 states and the District of Columbia that have their own transportation ills. Needless to say, we have a major infrastructure problem in the United States! Building unnecessary $20 billion people barriers is not a practical or responsible solution. Instead, we should be fixing the roads and bridges that Americans drive on every day.
Next, consider the question of whether the wall will even be effective in halting illegal immigration. By all accounts, drug smugglers and illegal immigrants use a variety of methods to make it into the United States, including an elaborate system of tunnels that are very difficult for border agents to detect. A wall might be dug down a decent distance to be embedded into the Earth, but along 2,000 miles of border, there would be numerous vulnerabilities that would be exploited. What is more practical from a border enforcement perspective is to use the modern technologies we currently have in place to detect illegal border crossings and the highly trained agents that monitor these areas. And consider what would happen if political priorities were to change in the middle of building this wall? How effective will that wall be if it were only half-built by the time Congress defunded it? That is a real possibility in today’s political climate.
We must also question the morality of breaking apart families of illegal immigrants, already in the United States, through mass deportation. We may face unintended consequences such as leaving undocumented citizens uneducated or without health care, and creating a gaping hole that would easily be felt if we mass-deported the immigrants who work in the agriculture industry.
The bottom line is this: We need Congress to do their jobs and pass comprehensive immigration reform; real legislation that modernizes our 31-year old immigration code. Building “the wall” was an effective tool on the campaign trail for political purposes, but it’s not practical to implement, maintain, or enforce. It’s just an easy answer to give when you don’t have a plan. The only way to solve the number of problems with immigration is to review the mammoth immigration law code of 1986, introduce subsequent legislation for debate, and work together to create better policy. Real change can happen only if we elect leaders that have the political courage to put their plans on the table and find common ground. We must stop looking backwards in our history for culprits to our problems and instead focus on finding pragmatic solutions that exist today.