- President Donald Trump’s address to the nation on Tuesday night warned of a life-threatening crisis of illegal immigration erupting at the southern border.
- Experts say there is no crisis and that the problems that do exist at the border can’t be solved with a wall.
- A wall won’t stop migrants desperate to flee their home countries. Nor will it stop drugs from entering the US, mostly through the ports of entry. Nor will it solve the issue of crime by unauthorised immigrants, which occurs at a lower rate than by US-born citizens.
- What will reduce illegal immigration, experts say, is providing a way for people to come to the US legally.
President Donald Trump’s televised address to the nation on Tuesday night warned of a nationwide, life-threatening crisis stemming from the US-Mexico border, wrought by an influx of unauthorised immigrants.
He described a series of gruesome crimes – immigrants beheading, dismembering, raping, stabbing, or beating American citizens. He declared that “thousands” more would be killed “if we don’t act right now.”
The president described the situation as a “growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.”
But the reality, experts say, is far different. And they say the “physical barrier” Trump is demanding will not solve the violence Trump depicted, nor the problems that do exist along the southern border.
“There’s not a crisis at the border,” said Jordan Bruneau, a senior policy analyst for the conservative-leaning Becoming American Initiative. “A border wall is a Band-Aid solution to the situation of illegal immigrants wanting to come to the country.”
But he said there’s a longer-term and far more effective fix that would eliminate the need to immigrate illegally: grant migrants work visas so they can come to the US legally.
The flaws in Trump’s arguments demonstrated multiple misconceptions about the problems at the US-Mexico border, the people who cross the border, and how they cross it
In his televised address, the president cited drugs pouring through the border as a reason to build a barrier, saying, “Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90% of which floods across from our southern border.”
But government data has shown that the vast majority of drugs coming across the border are brought in through legal ports of entry – often smuggled in using vehicles – and not unguarded stretches.
Trump also decried “uncontrolled, illegal migration,” even though many unauthorised immigrants in the US entered the country legally and overstayed their visas, and illegal border crossings remain near a 40-year low.
He also seized on the idea that criminal immigrants jeopardize the safety of Americans, arguing that “thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country” and that “thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now.”
But multiple studies have found that immigrants commit crimes at far lower rates than US-born Americans.
Alex Nowrasteh, a senior policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute who has researched the issue, said that Trump was trying to whip up fear among Americans about a problem that has statistical significance.
“They absolutely should not be as frightened as he thinks they should be,” he told INSIDER.
Trump “beat to death the notion that immigrants are coming here to kill us, to murder us, to rape us, to rob from us,” Nowrasteh said. “And the evidence simply does not support that. It is untrue. It has been repeated ad nauseam. And I don’t think the American public believes it.”
Though Trump pointed out specific cases of immigrants accused of brutal crimes – including a California police officer who authorities said was shot to death during a traffic stop last month at the hands of an unauthorised immigrant – Nowrasteh said anecdotes of violent crimes do not represent a trend among immigrants.
Instead, Nowrasteh said, the data shows that the American public has more to fear from US-born citizens.
“Out of any large population like that, there’s going to be some bad apples, of course. And some immigrants have done horrible things and committed terrible crimes,” he said. “But that’s no reason to punish the immigrants who haven’t done anything. And when we take a look at the evidence, they are less likely to commit homicides, they are less likely to commit crimes, they are less likely to be incarcerated than native-born Americans.”
It doesn’t all add up to a ‘security crisis’ at the border. But there is a clear problem.
There may not be a security crisis at the border, but there is a humanitarian crisis unfolding as detention centres and shelters continue to run at or above capacity. Two children who travelled to the US from Guatemala recently died while in custody, raising questions about the government’s ability to care for the influx of migrants.
But much of the problem along the border within the past year has stemmed from the changing demographics of migrants there, not the number of people who are crossing.
Roughly 20 years ago, US Border Patrol agents were arresting 1.6 million people at the border annually, many of them single Mexican men looking for work. Nowadays, Border Patrol agents are arresting a fraction of that – fewer than 400,000 people in fiscal 2018 – and they are primarily arresting Central American families fleeing poverty and violence and seeking asylum.
Over the past year, the number of families apprehended crossing the US-Mexico border has shot up to an all-time high. Customs and Border Protection data obtained this week by The Washington Post showed that a record 27,518 members of families were apprehended in December alone.
“There is indeed a humanitarian crisis at the border – but it is one of this administration’s own making,” Lorella Praeli, the deputy political director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Its manufactured security emergency isn’t credible.”
Praeli added that Trump and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “have lied about border statistics and conditions, continued to push narratives that are proven false, and egregiously distorted realities.”
This surge in migrant families, many of whom request asylum once they arrive in the US, has triggered a slew of logistical problems that authorities have struggled to accommodate. Trump administration officials have conceded that the Border Patrol stations where migrants are brought after being arrested were never intended to shelter children.
“They’re designed to be problematic and not safe,” Anne Chandler, the executive director of the Tahirih Justice Center’s Houston office, told INSIDER. “The other issue is that we have border-control strategies that didn’t start in this administration but date back to the ’80s, where we put in measures to try to hamper the abilities of individuals to cross our border, pushing individuals into more desolate areas.”
The Trump administration has sought to temper the flow of asylum-seekers with a variety of deterrence policies, perhaps the most infamous being last spring’s family separations, which split thousands of migrant children from their parents and prompted multiple lawsuits and a monthslong effort to reunite them.
The administration has also been criticised for imposing a practice called “metering,” allowing only a small number of migrants at a time to enter the US at ports of entry to seek asylum. But it has largely backfired. Thousands of migrants from multiple caravans remain stalled in Tijuana, Mexico, living on streets and in overflowing shelters, with some growing so impatient that they simply jump the border fence.
And a wall won’t alleviate the influx of asylum-seekers either
The problem with these strategies, Chandler said, is that they’re not effective deterrents for migrants who are desperate and have little to lose. The fencing along the US-Mexico border hasn’t dissuaded them from crossing, and neither would a wall.
Instead, it has pushed migrants to travel farther into the desert to cross in unguarded areas.
“When they are pushed into these more remote areas to cross the border, their vulnerability and their health situation escalates,” Chandler said. “In a situation like today, when we have metering going on at every border point that I know about… when we’re denying that and putting individuals at more difficult points of entry, you increase the vulnerability of kids.”
None of these problems – the influx of families, the lack of resources awaiting them, and the fact that some enter the US illegally before requesting asylum, would be solved with a wall, Nowrasteh said.
“These people are coming in and turning themselves in to Border Patrol to ask for asylum primarily,” he said. “A border wall won’t change that at all.”
He added that allowing migrant families to apply for work visas up front, instead of forcing them to seek roundabout ways to enter the US and request asylum, would cut down on illegal entries and actually produce a net benefit for the US.
“There will be more people here to work hard to achieve the American dream, to buy goods and services, to rent property and otherwise engage in the economy,” Nowrasteh said.
Instead of building a wall, we should fix our pathway for asylum-seekers, experts say
A better way to allocate the $US5.7 billion Trump is demanding for a wall would be to facilitate the flow of asylum-seekers entering the country, Nowrasteh said. That would include investing in more Border Patrol agents, hiring more immigration judges, and creating detention spaces with humane conditions.
But the Trump administration has sought to demonize migrants, using a caravan of migrants as a scare tactic before the 2018 midterm elections and accusing them of filing frivolous asylum claims when their lives aren’t truly in danger in their home countries.
The latter accusation isn’t necessarily incorrect, Bruneau said. But he added that there’s nothing wrong with migrants looking for work in the US.
Instead of turning them away, he said, why not let them come legally?
“A big portion of them are economic migrants, and there’s nothing wrong with that – that is the American tradition,” he said. “They’re coming to seek a better life, and if they want to come here to work … there should be a way for them to do so. And real Republicans should try to look to address this underlying problem.”
Despite Trump’s claim on Tuesday that America welcomes “lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation,” there are few options for those who want to enter the country to work. The pathways to legal immigration are riddled with bureaucratic hurdles.
Nowrasteh said there’s little reason to oppose legal immigration and argued that even so-called low-skilled immigrants raise wages and create jobs.
Despite the assumption that immigrants take American workers’ jobs, there’s evidence pointing to the contrary, Nowrasteh said. Immigrants typically compete against other immigrants in the US workforce, not Americans.
“On top of that, they are less likely to commit crime, less likely to commit terrorism, and less likely to have other social pathologies,” he continued. “So it’s a pretty big win across the board.
“Now, if you just don’t like foreigners, then there’s nothing I can tell you.”
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