“A Wall is an Immorality” (but a “barrier” is okay?)

About 35 seconds into this video (Guardian), Nancy Pelosi says that “a wall is an immorality,” presumably explaining why she and other Democrats won’t vote to fund the “wall” requested by the Trumpenfuhrer.

On the other hand, we already have 580 miles of “barrier” (Wikipedia), which includes parts that look like walls and parts that look like fences.

Could the solution to our current political impasse be for Democrats to vote to fund an extension of the current “barrier”? (Or, if they truly do think that any kind of barrier is immoral, will they vote to tear down the existing 580 miles? If something is “immoral” then surely we don’t want to keep doing it.)


“I met Sonny for the first time in 1992 when we both were candidates for the Republican Senate nomination in California. I shook hands with him, as we prepared for a debate, and I immediately liked him. The first question in the debate was about illegal immigration. I gave a prepared three-minute answer. Sonny simply said, ‘It’s illegal immigration. It’s illegal. Enforce the law.'” (regarding Sonny Bono)

26 thoughts on ““A Wall is an Immorality” (but a “barrier” is okay?)

  1. I guess it’s one of the situations where “enforcing the law” isn’t that simple. If you had a button to press which magically removed all illegal immigrants tomorrow, would you press it?

    What would be the positive / negative effectives of enforcing the law with 100% efficiency?

  2. AlreadyEmigrated: The Sonny Bono quote is in there not to start a discussion on whether we should enforce our current laws (I’m not even sure what they are!). It was on the subject of whether if something is immoral it is okay to keep doing it. Bono was saying “What’s to debate about illegal immigration? If it’s illegal, it’s illegal.” Pelosi says that a wall is “immoral” so how is it okay for us to keep the existing 580 miles of wall (“barrier”) in place? If something is immoral, don’t we have to stop doing it?

    • Abortion for convenience is immoral. Should we outlaw that? A college chum said: “I think it’s murder and it should be legal.” I haven’t come up with a better way of putting it.

    • Yeah saying a wall is “immoral” is a dumb way to put it. What they’re doing to lawful immigration and asylum seekers is immoral, if Pelosi is looking for targets.

  3. Viking: I think Hungary shows the magic of nomenclature! They didn’t build a “wall” (immoral), but rather a “barrier” (moral)!

  4. We also have gated communities [1] which consists of walls, fences, cameras and even security guards. You cannot walk in unless if you have access (you are a resident) or a resident gives you access.

    The issue with Trump’s wall is the way the manager delivers the message: Trump is a business man, not a smooth talker like politician are. And the harder you corner Trump, the stiffer he gets.

    [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gated_community

  5. @Viking, a *fence* is not a *wall*. Either way, what’s the cost? does it keep people out for real? because as a taxpayer I would not be that impressed to hear that 50% of the people who want to get in do anyway, and the remaining 50% failing to come in are stopped at a cost of 200000 [currency of your choice] each.

  6. Federico: What would it cost? Generally infrastructure in the U.S. costs 5-6X what other developed nations spend (see https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/23/where-the-second-avenue-subway-went-wrong ). So figure 10X whatever Hungary spent per mile of “barrier” (not “wall” because that would be immoral!). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_border_barrier says that the cost per mile was about $1 million. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexico%E2%80%93United_States_barrier says that 1374 miles of the U.S. border has no barrier (580 miles of “barrier” (not “wall”!) as of Jan 2009 and a total border of 1,954 miles. So it would cost the Hungarians $1.374 billion to complete the U.S./Mexico barrier and it would therefore cost the U.S. somewhere between $7 and $14 billion. Our annual spending on welfare is about $1.1 trillion (hard to calculate; see https://www.heritage.org/welfare/report/understanding-the-hidden-11-trillion-welfare-system-and-how-reform-it ). So a barrier completed by Hungarians would cost only a few hours of spending on welfare and if done by the U.S. government would cost less than one week of our spending on welfare.

    http://fairus.org/issue/publications-resources/fiscal-burden-illegal-immigration-united-states-taxpayers says that illegal immigration currently costs the U.S. economy about $116 billion/year, so a completed barrier would have to cut illegal immigration by 5-10 percent to pay for itself in one year or by about 1 percent to generate a more typical ROI (5-10-year payback period).

    [I think the $116 billion number is wrong, though, because it doesn’t reflect the cost of building infrastructure for a larger population (new spots in public schools at $200,000+/student), providing free housing for multiple generations, building infrastructure to try to alleviate traffic congestion, etc.]

    • @NotSoFair

      If you honestly cared about the cost of immigration, you would have to track decedents of people with US birth certificates dated pre 1965, and model to what extent they are net tax contributors, or net welfare recipients. By comparing the distribution of net contributions in this sub population to the full distribution of US residents, the difference is the cost of immigration.

      This is quite doable, but no anyone trying to do this study will be stonewalled, as the government [welfare] agencies in possession of the data exist in a symbiotic relationship with the net welfare recipients.

      On top of this comes the secondary effects Greenspun is often alluding to, the need to expand infrastructure greatly exceeds the inflation adjusted cost of original infrastructure, with cities growing faster than in the counterfactual no immigration scenario, more marginal land often has to be used for construction, which also drives up costs.

  7. @Federico

    From wikipedia article above: “Attempted border entries have fallen since the barrier was constructed. During the month of September 2015 there was a total number of 138,396 migrant entries, and within the first two weeks of November the average daily number of intercepted migrants decreased to only 15, which is a daily reduction of more than 4,500.[38]”

    In the case of Hungary, the fence seems to be 99.7% effective, however the US situation is different from the Hungarian one, as the “refugees” in Europe will follow the path of least resistance to apply for asylum in a country with generous welfare benefits. Perhaps in the presence of a border barrier between USA and Mexico, the path of least resistance is a tourist visa to Canada, followed by an unauthorized border crossing to USA.

  8. “a wall is an immorality,” says the woman with a 24/7 security detail to protect her.

    The amount of money involved is chump change by Washington standards. This is just a pure political ploy by Pelosi and Schumer. They know that Trump has promised his base a wall and they don’t want to give it to him. Whether it is needed for national security or not, whether it is “immoral” or not, has nothing to do with it – they could care less (and for that matter so could Trump – a wall is not going to fix all of our immigration issues and he knows this too). They want to take Trump down a notch with his voting base – that is all. I predict Trump will win this battle because he is a really stubborn guy and pushing him only makes him more stubborn.

  9. Jack: Why is it relevant that “a wall is not going to fix all of our immigration issues”? Who claimed that a wall would fix all issues? (whatever “fix” might mean!) I have seen people say that a wall wouldn’t accomplish anything at all (if so, why do we continue to spend money to maintain the 580 miles of existing “barrier”?), but I have never heard of anyone saying that a wall would accomplish everything that he or she wanted to see changed about U.S. immigration.

  10. Trump had two years to fund his wall, where Democrats had no ability to stop it. So yes it’s all a political ploy ( by Trump and Turtle ). Shutting down the gov. is a convenient side-effect for them.

    Even if the barrier is funded, securing the land through eminent domain will take quite a few years won’t it? Existing barrier in “high-traffic” areas is probably quite effective compared to the hundreds of miles of desert / uninhabited areas where crossings are minimal.

  11. AlreadyEmigrated: You raise a good point about securing the land.

    The Alaska Highway was longer than the currently un-fenced (or un-walled) part of the US/Mexico border. It was built in one summer. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Highway

    If we assume that it takes the U.S. 10X the amount of time to do something compared to what we were capable of in 1942, it would take perhaps 4 years to get this “barrier” completed.

    Do private landowners actually own right up to the border? https://features.propublica.org/eminent-domain-and-the-wall/the-taking-texas-government-property-seizure/ (regarding a fence built during the Obama Administration) suggests that the landowners do.

    But maybe the U.S. could just rent the land from Mexico and build the fence one foot over the border into Mexico? That might be simpler than us trying to use our own legal system!

  12. Actually it looks as though we have a good cost estimate from the above-cited article https://features.propublica.org/eminent-domain-and-the-wall/the-taking-texas-government-property-seizure/

    “President Obama oversaw the fence’s construction. All told, Homeland Security built 654 miles of fence — just short of the 700 mile goal set by Congress — at a cost of $2.4 billion.”

    So that was $3.7 million per mile roughly 10 years ago. If we assume that costs for government-run projects have gone up at a 6 percent inflation rate, it should be about $6.6 million if started in 2019. Almost exactly 6X the Hungary number (New Yorker magazine would have predicted 5-6X a “developed” European country). So we should be able to add 1374 miles of “fence” (not “wall”!) to the existing “barrier” at a cost of $9.1 billion.

  13. It sounds to me like Homeland Security did a good job of acquiring land cheaply according to your Pro Publica link.

    “Homeland Security …. did not conduct formal appraisals of targeted parcels. Instead, it issued low-ball offers based on substandard estimates of property values….. Smaller and poorer landholders took whatever the government offered — or wrung out small increases in settlements. The government conceded publicly that landowners without lawyers might wind up shortchanged….”

    Shortchanging landowners means longchanging the taxpayers so Homeland Security deserves praise for being so thrifty with the taxpayer’s purse!

  14. It’s all smoke intended to blur the Russia investigation. Mexicans coming across the border have already climbed higher obstacles than a concrete or steel wall.
    Anyone in this country who wants to maintain a pile of concrete or rusting steel for the next 50 years is a complete moron.

  15. The cost of the wall is an issue, but the real issues are:

    1) is there an equally priced approach that is more effective?
    2) is there an equally effective approach that is cheaper?

    I assume that wasting any money is not ok for this fiscally conservative audience. Would increasing the number of people who adjudicate immigration claims so that people cannot just disappear in the general population (while waiting for years for a decision) be cheaper? wouldn’t a bunch of drones with IR sensors to find people crossing illegally be cheaper?

    I have no answers, but the problem allows far more nuance that ‘barrier yes/no — cost of the barrier’.

  16. Federico: I think that the U.S. has already demonstrated incompetence in all of the areas that you cite, as evidenced by the 12 million(?) undocumented immigrants already here despite the spectacular budget for the CBP. Hence the passion for extending the 580 miles of current border fence (not a “wall” or it would be immoral to have this fence!).

    Also, conditions change over time and it turns out that Hondurans are smarter than Americans (which is why it is now common for migrants to show up with minor children, for example). Since it turns out that we are not smart we need to pursue a technology or system that works without intelligent administration or management. A fence is a good example of a technology that does not require exceptionally able managers to run.

  17. Phil, unless you mine the border, or use other ways of discouraging and apprehending illegal immigrants, anybody able to get up off a chair unaided can go over walls and fences, especially if left unguarded.

    I do agree the US should be able to control their borders, but the issue of whether a fence/barrier/wall will increase the US effectiveness at doing so, ideally in a tax neutral or positive way, is a different matter. Does the wall/fence/barrier work well in those parts of the border where it is present?

  18. Aren’t there multiple caravans on the Mexico side of the exist 580-mile fence (not an immoral “wall”)? Given that, by law, they would be entitled to claim asylum from anywhere inside the U.S., doesn’t the fact that they apparently can’t get into the U.S. suggest that the current fence works reasonably well? Otherwise they should be in sanctuary cities in California and signed up for all of the means-tested benefit programs to which they would be entitled (as undocumented US residents with no W-2 income).

    What has stopped the caravans if not our current fence?

    • Phil, ICE agents are stopping them. Ship the ICE agent all to Hawaii for a week and we will see. Otherwise, the desert/other hazardous environment is stopping them.

      How well does the wall/fence/barrier work when it is placed someplace people might want to risk crossing but it is left unmanned? if you care about your tax dollar you might want to know. A wall/fence/barrier is a desert (Sonora?) people might not want to cross through anyway does not seem money well spent.

    • That’s a good point that the fence without the agents isn’t worth much. If we were smart we would hire Mexicans to work on the south side of the existing and proposed fence! Make US taxpayers and Mexicans both happy. Or, just offer caravan members jobs patrolling the southern edge of fence!

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