U.S. government shutdown temporarily lifted
After enduring 35 days under the longest government shutdown to date, the U.S. now has a plan to open the government until Feb. 15. President Donald Trump hopes that he can fulfill his promise for a southern border wall in the next three weeks, whereas the House will continue to block his demands. There is still a chance that the President will declare a border emergency or prevent a new continuing resolution from passing.
Countless headlines have shown the effects of a prolonged government shutdown. Federal workers have missed two paychecks, food went uninspected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and federal employees were rationing their insulin. Most recently, the LaGuardia airport in New York issued a ground stop just this past Friday due to a mass of unpaid workers calling in sick. Although there is a temporary plan to reopen the government, we have seen another example of the consequences of having an erratic and hyperpartisan leader.
Before getting into the ethical violations of the extended government shutdown, it is important to discuss the efficacy of a border wall. The most obvious argument against the wall is the cost. The President's own estimates over the years have fluctuated wildly. Now, he demands $5.7 billion. In reality, however, estimates go far beyond, and this isn't even considering additional expenses such as maintenance costs nor possible undermining of costs that were used to calculate these estimates.
Additionally, the border wall would obstruct water. Even a fence, despite having holes that allow some water to flow, built along bodies of water on the border can build up debris that ultimately obstructs water flow. A treaty made in 1970 requires that the Rio Grande river, which separates the U.S. and Mexico, remains open on both sides of the border. To accommodate the treaty, the Obama administration built the border fences so that it caved inward along the U.S. border, cutting into residents' private property. Currently, the border fence allows the people to go through their property, but a border wall would interfere with free movement.
Obstructing water is not the only natural consequence of a border wall. Over 2,000 miles, the border hosts more than 1,500 native animal and plant species. A study shows that almost a hundred endangered species would be on the brink of extinction should the wall be built. Consequently, the threat to biodiversity also affects industries such as ecotourism. Texas A&M University estimates that the Rio Grande ecotourism industry alone is worth around $463 million. The border wall would damage the ecosystems of some of North America's most biologically diverse regions.
The wall's efficacy is also questionable. Just a few weeks ago, a prototype of the steel slat that would be used for the border wall was cut with something you probably have in your shed: a saw. This contradicts the President's promise to build an "impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful" wall. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) agrees that there is "nothing special" about Trump's wall. "President Trump likes to pretend a wall will solve all our problems, but it's been clear for some time that it is little more than a very expensive vanity project... there is nothing special about his wall and it will not secure our borders." Furthermore, the wall's vulnerabilities are not limited to just saws; underground tunnels are still viable for smugglers and, of course, ladders and ropes do the trick, too.
The party of rationality and economics seems to have forgotten the basic concept of supply and demand. This principle can be found in various instances regarding the illegal crossing of the border in general. Marijuana legalization, for example, resulted in a 78 percent decrease in border marijuana seizures. The lowered reward for smuggling drugs attacked the supply end of the model, disincentivizing suppliers. A border fence, on the other hand, had no effect. Another area in which this principle plays a role is the general elasticity of demand for immigration. The president claimed that thousands of gang members were flooding into the country, but not even 1,000 of the total border crossers had violent crime convictions, making up a mere 0.2 percent. This confirms that the vast majority of migrants are people who want to come here for a better life. To model the supply and demand curve, the supply curve would be relatively inelastic, meaning that since the demand to cross the border is not as affected by extrinsic obstacles like heightened security, the demand would not be as affected by the introduction of new obstacles. A more effective way to decrease the demands would be to reduce incentives to cross the border. By supporting coups in Honduras and other nations in the global south, the U.S. directly destabilizes those countries forcing many people to flee north. Instead, creating policies that would help those countries would reduce the incentive for people to cross over the border illegally.
Finally, even if the border wall was 100 percent effective in preventing migrants from crossing the border, federal data shows that a significant portion of America's undocumented immigrants entered legally and just overstayed their visas. Furthermore, illegal immigration has been declining for years, directly contradicting the "national emergency" narrative that has been pushing through. Erecting a wall would not be an effective measure, as it does not address the leading reason for undocumented immigrants. Instead, a more proactive way to enforce border security would be to make the immigration process more straightforward and transparent.
Perhaps Trump should recall his 2004 commencement speech at Wagner College the next time he thinks about erecting a border wall. When migrants are faced with a wall, perhaps they will choose to walk away. But, on the flipside, perhaps they'll decide to "go through it, go over it, go around it, but get to the other side of that wall.”