Building a Wall Is Not an Immigration Solution

Long_border_fenceThe Wall Street Journal reports this week that a State Department technology failure has halted the issuing of temporary and immigrant visas, a setback which is having major ramifications for American farmers:

“It’s a crisis,” said Jason Resnick, general counsel for the Western Growers Association, which represents farmers in California, Arizona and Colorado.

He said that more than 1,000 workers who expected H-2A agricultural visas are stuck on the Mexican side of the border, where motels are overflowing. The workers are overdue to start harvesting berries and other crops on U.S. farms. Mr. Resnick estimated that California agriculture, already stressed by drought, is losing $500,000 to $1 million for each day of delay.

Growers from Washington state to Michigan, the Carolinas and Georgia are also frustrated and braced for losses as the U.S. government’s main program for providing legal farmworkers to forestall the use of illegal migrants remains frozen.

“Some of my Rainier cherries are beat to a pulp,” said Julie Evans, a grower in southeastern Washington whose fruit has ripened faster than normal. “Not having the workers is hurting us terribly.” Growers say it is too early to say whether the delay will cause a rise in produce prices.

Meanwhile, immigration policy also featured prominently in the Tuesday announcement speech of Donald Trump, the most recently confirmed addition to the GOP presidential field:

When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically.

The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems.

Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes common sense. It only makes common sense. They’re sending us not the right people.

It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably— probably— from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening. And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.

[…]

I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.

Trump is only the latest candidate to use restrictionist rhetoric in an attempt to excite conservatives.  However, such rhetoric is not only politically imprudent, as has been argued here before.  Considering situations such as the one detailed by the WSJ story, this rhetoric is also completely detached from reality.

Of course, improved border security and other enforcement measures must be a necessary part of any serious immigration reform proposal.  But no proposal will have any hope of even remotely fixing America’s immigration system without addressing the main motivation for immigration in the first place: economic opportunity.

As long as there are labor needs in the U.S. which American workers cannot fill, there will always be incentives for immigrants to enter our country, no matter how big of a wall we build.  And as this current visa crisis shows, shutting off the flow of immigrant workers can have damaging effects on the economy, which depends a great deal on the hard work of immigrants, most of whom come to our country simply to support themselves and their families (Trump’s opinions notwithstanding).

As Rick Perry recently pointed out, while Trump’s tough talk may make “for some pretty good TV, … Americans are not looking for rhetoric.”  Gov. Perry is right.  It’s high time Republicans start raising the level of the debate.

Paul Dupont is a legislative assistant for American Principles in Action.