Two years into the Trump presidency his promised wall has yet to rise along the US-Mexico border. Trump wants to build a wall to protect American jobs and to keep the American people safe. At this point, funding for the wall has yet to be secured and construction hasn’t begun. It also looks like Democrats are going to fight Trump tooth and nail to prevent the project from ever breaking ground.
Estimates of the number of illegal immigrants currently in the United States range from 10.7 million to 12 million -- with half of these immigrants coming from Mexico. The Migration Policy Institute shows the highest concentrations of these undocumented Mexican immigrants reside in the states that lie along Mexican border. While border security apprehended just over 300,000 migrants in 2017, illegal border crossings are not the main cause of illegal arrivals. A report from the Center of Migration Studies showed that most undocumented arrivals in the United States come from overstayed visas. Expired visas accounted for around two-thirds of the illegal arrivals into the US in 2014.
The proposed border wall is projected to cost $18 billion. It would cover around 1,000 miles of the 2,000-mile US-Mexico border. While it is purely conceptual to estimate how effective this wall would be at preventing illegal border crossings, it is likely that the wall would have some effect on the number of illegal Mexican immigrants crossing the shared border. A border wall installed in the Yuma sector was extremely effective and resulted in a 90 percent decrease in the number of people apprehended at the border.
However, an effective border wall could have unintended consequences because some industries have become dependent on the labor of illegal immigrants. The Economic Research Service and the United States Department of Agriculture estimated that around half of hired farmworkers lack legal immigration status. Since these crop farmworkers are illegal, the minimum wage does not apply to them and their labor is very cheap. If an effective border wall is built, the supply of these low skill agricultural workers will decrease over time. With these undocumented workers gone, the remaining workers will have better wages and better job security, which is the intended influence of the wall. However, because undocumented workers make up half of the supply of farm labor and because low-paying difficult jobs are not desirable to most US citizens, there will be a shortage of workers. The drop-in worker supply and increased wages will dramatically increase food prices. The most dramatic change would be within the produce industry where most of these illegal immigrants find jobs. The Farmer’s Bureau explains that the immigrant workforce is crucial to the agricultural industry. It claims that increased immigration enforcement without reforming the worker visa program could result in a $60 billion loss in agriculture production. While a border wall may not cause a collapse of the illegal immigrant worker supply initially, it could have devastating influence on our produce industry over time.
So, the question becomes “Is the border wall worth it?” I believe the clear answer is no. The border wall does not directly target the problem of overstayed visas, the main vehicle by illegal immigrants. I propose that the $18 billion that Trump wants to spend on the wall be used to reform our worker visa program and allow those illegal immigrants working specifically in the agriculture industry to more easily obtain work visas. This would incentivize these immigrants to work in the agricultural industry, which would lead to lower produce prices. This solution may not cut down on illegal immigration, but it does protect the agricultural industry, a key industry that is now reliant on the cheap labor of these immigrants.
This columnist is an Intermediate Microeconomics student of Log Cabin columnist Joe McGarrity. Each guest column is vetted by McGarrity before publication in the newspaper. For more information or to contact the writer, email email@example.com.