Saturday, June 18, 2016

Unsealed Borders

"Is it a good day for dinosaur news? It's always a good day for dinosaur news!" exclaims Charlie Peters every week or two.

Is it a good day to hear John Oliver? It's always a good day to hear John Oliver! And that's even when he's only about 80 percent right, as he was when he took on Donald Trump's Mexican wall. That was in April but a little attention turned this past week to immigration following the murder at a gay nightclub in Orlando of 50 individuals by a resident of Port St. Lucie, Florida.

It turns out the wall is not the "infinitely bad idea" Matt Miller termed it when he reported favorably on Oliver's essay. Its cost, at least, is finite, however exorbitant.

Trump, as we all know, claims that Mexico would pay for the "beautiful" wall, which would have to be roughly 1,300 miles. The government of Mexico would be extremely resistant and if it ever did agree, what it would extract in concessions from the USA would be extraordinary, even unprecedented, and clearly prohibitive.

Oliver states that Trump has deduced it would be anywhere from 35 feet to 100 feet high and found a construction economist who evaluated its likely cost at the low end of 35 feet over 1,000 miles.  It would include approximately

- $10 billion for the concrete p;anels and $5-6 billion for steel columns to hold the panels, including labor

- $1 billion for the concrete footinf for the columns and a concrete foundation

- $2 billion for a road to enable 20-ton trucks to deliver the materials

- "another 30 percent" for engineering, design, management, and the like

- maintenance costs which within seven years would exceed initial construction costs (according to      the Congressional Budget office)

That's a lot of money- even more than Donald Trump claims he himself is worth- and Oliver remarked "so it's a big, dumb thing that only gets more expensive over time."

It's huge, gets far more expensive over time, and would deserve to be considered dumb, if only we could be confident its most vociferous critics understood that the objective of establishing a somewhat secure border were worthwhile.

But we cannot be.  We see in the video below a Paul Bebar claiming Border Patrol believes "if you build a 30-foot wall, all it's going to do is create a market for a 31-foot ladder."

Say it ain't so. I fear for the Border Patrol if the agency actually believes there will be ever be an unregulated market market for a 31-foot ladder, used only by smugglers of people and drugs, And if it were commonly used, I'd like to see the unathletic, pregnant woman (or man, minus the pregnancy) climbing that ladder and shimmying down to the other, USA, side with a rope.  That would be worth the price of admission.

That scenario is unlikely, at least on a large scale, but a wall would forever remind us of Red China's Great Wall or Communist East Germany's Berlin Wall.

There is, however, an alternative.  Consider that even with municipal, county, or state law enforcement patrolling our streets and highways, speeding and other motor vehicle violations occur on a regular basis. We do not halt police activity because some motorists have devised one way or another to avoid detection.

Enforcement of motor vehicle codes is not accomplished with a wall or anything similar, but with personnel,traversing our roadways. Upon probable cause, other members of law enforcement occasionally conduct raids.

The analogy is simple. We could sink northward of 40 billion dollars into walling ourselves off from our southern neighbor, with all the ugly symbolism.  Or we could invest in increased personnel patrolling our southern (and, as needed, northern) border and raiding workplaces which authorities have reason to believe harbor a large number of illegal immigrants, with serious consequences for employee and employer ensuing.  There is a way to stem and discourage illegal immigration without a wall.

Donald Trump has practically told us he would not build a wall. Mexico would not pay for it, leaving a President Trump an excuse to do nothing. There will not be a sufficient expansion of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or of the U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement because Democrats are not keen on enforcement and Republicans not willing to expand the size of the federal government. (Weapons of war are manufactured by the private sector.)

Human capital is, alas, so 1970s. Expect continued immigration, legal and illegal, lots of rhetoric and hand-wringing, and little done.

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