1. Illegal crossings at our southern border have gotten out of hand. The only way to stop it is to physically seal up the border. And the only way to seal up the border is to build a wall.
Proponents of border walls have pointed to the impact of border barriers in urban areas as evidence for their effectiveness. For example, a 2020 release from the Department of Homeland Security argued that in areas such as San Diego and El Paso, illegal border crossings and apprehensions decreased after fencing was erected. However, evidence suggests that barriers in urban areas simply redirect migration to more remote and dangerous areas. A 2009 Congressional Research Service report found a “strong indication” that fencing had “re-routed illegal immigrants to other less fortified areas of the border” without reducing unauthorized immigration overall, and found numerous breaches and tunnels where there was fencing. “It stands to reason that even if border fencing is constructed over a significant portion of the land border, the incidences of fence breaches and underground tunnels would increase,” the report concluded.
Former President Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz have pointed to Israel as an illustration of what could be accomplished in America, claiming Israel’s border walls have cut illegal immigration by “99.9 percent.” Indeed, at least in the case of the Israeli-Egyptian border, a wall has proven very effective at cutting illegal crossings. However, experts caution that the Israeli-Egyptian border is only 150 miles long in open, dry, accessible terrain, while the U.S.-Mexico border is almost 2,000 miles long through remote deserts and mountainous areas which complicate construction and enforcement.
A 2015 analysis by Steven A. Camarota for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a think tank that advocates for lower levels of immigration, argued that a wall would be a cost effective solution compared to the cost of providing public services to undocumented immigrants, saving $64 billion over the next 10 years. Camarota’s methodology has been heavily criticized by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, and the fact-checking website Snopes.
Firstly, Camarota relies on a statement by Sen. Mitch McConnell rather than an official cost estimate. While McConnell stated the cost of a border wall at $12 to $15 billion, the DHS later released an estimate of $21.6 billion, not including ongoing maintenance. Other estimates of construction costs, such as one from the MIT Technology Review, are as high as $38 billion.
Secondly, Camarota used questionable methodology to come up with his cost estimate for individual undocumented immigrants. While Camarota sourced data from a reputable report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) that estimates the lifetime fiscal balance of immigrants based on level of education across multiple scenarios, the original authors of the NAS report objected to Camarota’s approach to their data (as quoted in the Snopes article above).
Additionally, since the NAS report only includes estimates for legal immigrants, Camarota turned to a criticized 2013 report by the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation to arrive at his estimates for undocumented immigrants (see criticisms from the Cato Institute, FactCheck.org, The Washington Post, and the American Enterprise Institute).
Overall, there is little to no reputable evidence that border walls effectively deter unauthorized migration; that they are more cost effective than other strategies for deterring migration; or that they deter smuggling. In a 2016 review of studies by the Migration Policy Institute, author Reece Jones found no conclusive studies on the deterrent effects of border barriers and concluded that border walls are “relatively ineffective” at stopping unauthorized migration and smuggling.