Friday, January 26, 2018

A comment on border walls

This is based on a comment I made here.

The success of Israel and Hungary in putting up border barriers has been cited as evidence in favour of President Trump's proposed Mexican border wall.

West Bank barrier.
A counter-argument raised against such citing is that those walls are much smaller than the Trump proposal. It is true that the US-Mexican border is 3,201km long, while Israel has 1,004km of border barriers (708km on West Bank, 245km on Egypt border and 51km on Gaza border) and the Hungarian border barriers are 523km (175km on Serbian border and 348km on Croatian border)--actually, slightly less if one includes natural barriers.

What is missing in this simple comparison is relative populations. Israel has 1,004 km of border wall with a population of 8.5m, so 8,500 people per km of wall.

Hungary has 523km of border wall with a population of 9.8m, so 18,700 people per km of wall.

Hungarian border barrier.
The US-Mexico border is 3,201km long and the US has a population of 325.7m, which would be 101,800 people per km of wall.

Given that Americans are also, on average, richer than Israelis and Hungarians, the proposed Mexican border barrier is, in fact, “smaller” with respect to population and GDP than either the Israeli or Hungarian cases.

Another argument sometimes mounted against border barriers or border enforcement is that a significant amount of illegal immigration comes from visa overstayers and other people who have legally entered for one purpose but extend their stay beyond their legal entitlement. While this is true, it is no argument against border barriers, which can (as the Israel and Hungarian cases demonstrate) be very effective in stopping illegal border crossings. That they do not also stop overstaying merely tells us that such barriers are not a complete solution to all illegal immigration.

It is also reasonable to regard the two types of illegal immigration differently simply because the overstayers have at least passed some level of entry scrutiny. Moreover, it is a bit difficult to do things such as various forms of infrastructure when you don't even know how many folk are in the country. (And the notion that the social infrastructure of being a successful country is infinitely flexible, so can deal with any level of inflow of any type, strikes me as just nuts.)

Incorporating or denigrating
The Australian and Canadian experiences suggest quite strongly that effective efforts against illegal immigration can actually help the pro-immigration cause because it does not make ordinary voters feel they have no say. Making voters feel helpless and ignored is not good for politics in general and the politics of immigration in particular. While de-legitimising considering the downsides from migration helps along the process of spectacularly screwing up migration policy.

Design proposal for Mexican border barrier.
Of course, if your main operative concern regarding immigration is to show how righteous you are, then making the "unrighteous" feel helpless and ignored, indeed, rubbing their noses in how much their views (and votes) don't count, may be much of the attraction in the first place. (The term undocumented migrants is a nicely Orwellian way of saying "and your votes shouldn't count", though it is only part of the use of language to promote voter irrelevance on migration matters.)

But that sort of moralising arrogance, and contempt towards fellow citizens, is not helpful; however strong and appealing it may be among "progressive" folk. It helps give support for the very populist politics that they so deride; but even that can also be a good outcome for them, as it "confirms" their contempt for their fellow citizens which has become so much an integral part of contemporary "progressive" politics.

Far from comparative size stopping the successful Israeli and Hungarian border barriers being evidence for a Mexican border wall, the Mexican border wall is (relative to population and GDP) actually as "smaller" proposal than either.

ADDENDA: An unusually sensible piece on The Wall.
An amusing post about the success of physical barriers.
The latest poll is from 2012, but includes previous polls and suggests strong support for enforcing laws against illegal immigration.
[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]


  1. "it does not make ordinary voters feel they have no say"
    Poll after poll has shown that "ordinary voters" oppose Trump's border wall , even those in such red states as Arizona and Texas .

    "The term undocumented migrants is a nicely Orwellian way of saying "and your votes shouldn't count"
    So in light of the fact cited above, it is actually the term "illegal aliens" that is the "Orwellian way of saying "your votes shouldn't count.""

    "you don't even know how many folk are in the country"
    Well, I suppose it is hard to know how many there are when your primary concern is holding onto power through increasingly anti-majoritarian and undemocratic means, from voter suppression to census subversion .

    1. The question of whether one supports a specific measure -- the wall -- and a general policy -- border enforcement, are two different questions. So, polling on the wall itself is not very informative on the more general question.
      Polling suggests strong support for a path to citizenship for those who pass background checks.
      Pollsters don't seem to ask direct questions on border enforcement, so it is hard to judge what the overall opinion is. But they are fairly clearly in favour of at least some checking process.

      The citizenship question on the census is again a case of how weird US debates can be. Australia has a much higher percentage of migrants in its population than the US and has asked respondents citizenship in every census since 1911.

    2. This is a remarkably sensible piece on the issue of The Wall.

    3. You weren't talking about a general border enforcement policy, which Democrats overwhelmingly agree is necessary, as evidenced by the fact that during negotiations with the White House late last year they were willing to support increased funds for border security in exchange for a path to citizenship. No, Lorenzo, what you were talking about is how voters ostensibly having no say in the debate, to which I pointed out that actually based on polling data it is the building of the wall that would mean that "ordinary voters" have no say in the debate. Indeed, contrary to popular belief, the Democrats' immigration policy positions for the past decade have consistently reflected the wishes of "ordinary voters." Hillary Clinton as a senator voted for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 -- "a compromise between providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and increased border enforcement" -- along with most of her Democratic colleagues, including Obama . So this idea that Democrats are opposed to strong border enforcement is plainly a patent lie that just won't die. And I, for one, just can't fathom why you, a staunch critic of postmodernism, of all people would peddle such a demonstrably false claim.

      Does Australia also have a federal government that is hellbent on rounding up undocumented immigrants just going about their day , dropping off their kids at school , working shitty minimum-wage jobs nobody else wants , even those living in states whose "ordinary voters" enthusiastically want then and welcome them ? Apples and oranges, Lorenzo. Apples and oranges.

      If push comes to shove, I have no doubt Democrats will do the right thing and relent on the wall, if they can secure a path to citizenship for millions of people who are already American in all but name. That's the difference between Democrats and Republicans: we put people first.

    4. Not what I said. I said the cases of Australia and Canada suggest that effective border enforcement helps the pro-immigration case. Neither of them have border walls. Moreover, the whole "sanctuary city" movement is about subverting border enforcement.

    5. "The Australian and Canadian experiences suggest quite strongly that effective efforts against illegal immigration can actually help the pro-immigration cause because it does not make ordinary voters feel they have no say."
      BECAUSE IT DOES NOT MAKE ORDINARY VOTERS FEEL THEY HAVE NO SAY. But since as I have pointed out, building the wall in the American context is precisely the very thing that makes ordinary voters feel they have no say, it is simply disingenuous to omit your own words when their logical end inconveniently refutes their very premise.

      I suppose "the whole "sanctuary city" movement is about subverting border enforcement," if you also happen to believe that the various states' nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act is also about subverting border enforcement. Those goddamn people of color, am I right? Why can't they just follow the law like white people?

    6. I don't think you have thought through the Fugitive Slave Act nullification as an analogy. There is a difference from saying "any serious attempt at border enforcement will be attacked/delegitimated" and "most people don't agree with this particular form of border enforcement". Arguing against the wall on the grounds it is too many bucks for the bang is different from arguing against the border wall as part of a more general campaign to block/delegitimise border enforcement.

    7. I am curious as to who exactly you think is part of this "more general campaign to block/delegitimise border enforcement," seeing that I have dutifully informed you that most Democrats today want border enforcement and most Democrats historically have voted in good faith for border enforcement even as Republicans in their characteristically bad faith keep moving the goal post further and further away to the right, where neither good sense nor "ordinary voters" are anywhere near to be found, unless, of course, by "ordinary voters" you mean Trump's immovable base of angry white people, which, come to think of it, frankly is the only way this entire post of yours would even make sense. That's it, isn't it? You were talking about that white minority, weren't you? You didn't realize their views were not even remotely representative of "ordinary voters," did you? Ah, it appears that someone didn't do his homework, which would explain why you would even think that America, a multi-everything nation whose current president lost the sovereign popular vote by almost 3 million could in any meaningful way be likened to largely homogeneous, mono-ethnic nations like the Jewish state and Hungary. Well, this sure has been telling. And since I am not interested in dealing with straw man arguments, ill-informed red herrings, and staggering historical and moral obtuseness -- doubtless you consider this strong border enforcement: -- I'll leave you be to your native land, then. Thank you, all the same.

    8. There is an obvious differentiation between the mass of Democrat voters and those setting up language games. "Undocumented migrants" makes as much sense as calling theft "undocumented property transfer". The language implies, and is intended to imply, that they should be accepted. Which is obviously not compatible with serious border enforcement. That most Democrat voters are in favour of border enforcement is precisely why those sort of games have to be played.

    9. Here is a classic "don't bother with enforcement" piece.