We are now in the 33rd day of a Southern border fight-induced federal government shutdown. With Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi as recalcitrant as ever in their open-borders zealotry, it is unclear when this standoff might ever end.
Construction of a wall along the Southern border was, of course, President Trump’s singularly iconic campaign promise. The man who famously descended that Trump Tower escalator in June 2015 made the illegal immigration issue the unambiguous centerpiece of his presidential campaign. And within the context of Trump’s campaigning on the illegal immigration issue, nothing was more identifiably and palpably #MAGA than Trump’s promise to build a wall along the Southern border and (somehow) make Mexico pay for it.
To be sure, border walls work. In fact, they work quite well. Just ask the folks thousands of years ago who built the Great Wall of China — or perhaps the post-Second Intifada Israelis whose daily lives were made infinitely more peaceful afer the security fence was constructed around Judea and Samaria. In 2017, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute surveyed a myriad of border walls the world over. Rubin recently revisited the issue in the context of the present government shutdown and concluded that politically motivated opposition to the historical efficacy of border walls represents a “willful subordination of facts”:
Since my last compilation, the list has only grown. Iraq has now built a fence along its border with Syria, and France has also joined the club, specifically to control illegal immigration. Lithuania has built a barrier along one of its borders with Russia. Estonia, too, is joining the club. Norway, too, has built a border barrier along its frontier with Russia in order to stem illegal immigration…
Whether the cost of an enhanced border wall for the US-Mexican border would provide the most bang for the buck is a political decision. But, as argued in my 2017 post, it is simply counterfactual to suggest walls don’t work, a willful subordination of facts to the politics of the day. Put another way: Take Trump out of the equation, and a growing number of countries (and, in the case of Cyprus, even the United Nations) are weighing evidence and facts and concluding that border walls very much serve their stated purpose.
But as iconic as the border wall is for Trump, as irrefutable as the historical successes of border walls may be, and as important as the present standoff is for Trump’s political standing with his base, it would be a mistake for immigration hawks to become too subsumed with the border wall over the mid- to long-term. Yes, a physical barrier would help thwart the transnational cartels and human traffickers who smuggle in young drug mules and (gasp, yes!) dangerous Middle Easterners alike.
At the same time, it is also now well-established that a higher percentage of illegal aliens in the U.S. are due to visa overstays than they are due to border crossings. We need a full-spectrum strategy to remove all incentives for the cartels and traffickers to commit their humanitarian injustices upon trafficked sex victims — as well as the inner-city American youth victims upon whom the cartels commit their fentanyl-induced de facto drug chemical warfare.
A border wall is not only insufficient for the gravity of the task at hand, but it does not even address the crux of the illegal imimgration problem. Instead, after the present shutdown fight is over — no matter how it ends — the onus is on immigration hawks to begin to shift the conversation away from treating the border wall as some sort of panacea and toward treating it as one small component of a broader enforcement strategy. Most specifically, it is incumbent upon hawks to tout the importance of an all-encompassing interior enforcement strategy.
There are any number of concrete policies conservatives can promote, in the sphere of interior enforcement. Biometric entry-exit visas have been mandated under U.S. law since 2002 — and it is time that we actually enforce them. We could require certain classes of visas who have been historically prone to commit overstays to post bond upon entering the country. We could mandate incarceration for certain categories of visa overstays and bar overstayers from reapplying for visas for a certain number of years. We should deport all violent criminal aliens, once and for all — period. We should deport all aliens who find themselves on the “terror watch list” — aliens, unlike U.S. citizens, do not have full due process rights vis-à-vis the watch list, and deportation is in any event legally considered to be an extension of sovereignty rather than a crime with which a concomitant bundle of due process rights necessarily attach. We should incentivize cooperative, non-coercive opportunities for state and local law enforcement to assist ICE with apprehending illegal aliens. We should finally pass the comprehensive Davis-Oliver Act. We should defund all law enforcement grant programs for sanctuary jurisdicitons. We should crack down on perhaps the most under-appreciated aspect of the illegal immigration problem, which is identity theft.
And so on.
Perhaps above all else, conservatives should remember that, while countless factors contributed to the events of September 11, 2001, one proximate cause was a visa overstay problem — a lack of solidifed interior enforcement. Two of the 9/11 hijackers — who should, of course, have never received visas in the first instance — were present in the country on that fateful day due to overstaying their visas. Two of the 9/11 hijackers, in other words, were illegal aliens still presently in the country due to a lack of robust interior enforcement. As Conservative Review’s Daniel Horowitz wrote on the 16th anniversary of 9/11, in 2017:
Consider how astounding this is: Congress passed an exit-entry visa tracking system in 1996. Its implementation was recommended by the 9/11 Commission. We still have not implemented such a verification system. Two of the hijackers, Satam al Suqami and Nawaf al Hazmi, overstayed their visas. Visa overstays remains the biggest gaping hole in our security. More than 600,000 people who overstayed their visas in 2016 alone still remain in the country.
Furthermore, instead of making visa applications from terror-prone countries a red flag, we now admit over 155,000 foreign students from the Middle East and have more immigrants from these countries than ever before. One of the 9/11 hijackers came here on a student visa from Saudi Arabia. We have responded to the threat by increasing the number of foreign students from Saudi Arabia from a few thousand a year to over 70,000. In 2014, ABC news discovered that 58,000 foreign nationals had overstayed their student visas in particular, of which 6,000 represented a “heightened concern.”
I am the very, very last person who would ever downplay the unspeakable atrocity of 9/11 or seek to aggrandize it for political gain. As I wrote on the 15th anniversary of the attacks, “the jihadist attacks of September 11, 2001 served as the seminal moment in my nascent political development…[9/11] was for me the first time I developed a Manichean understanding of the world. It was the first time I came to viscerally understand that evil truly does exist in this realm — and that the only way to combat existential evil is with large doses of unapologetic, relentless good.”
But the facts are, of course, the facts. And it is an uncontestable fact that 9/11 was, in no small part, a self-inflicted crisis of immigration non-enforcement.
So yes, conservatives ought to push full-throttle for the border wall. President Trump is right to prolong this shutdown fight until Schumer and Pelosi come to the negotiating table and give him the relatively paltry sum of funding that he is seeking. Walls, after all, emphatically do work.
But in the mid- to long-term, interior enforcement is even more important. And conservatives must not forget that.