President Trump is determined to install a wall on our Southern border, despite ample evidence of it's devastating impact on the environment, the unfeasibility due to the nature of the border (think "Rio Grande river), as well as evidence of the ineffectiveness of stopping undocumented immigration or the flow of illegal drugs.
And yet, this is still an important question to ask. Will a tall ("beautiful") wall along our Souther Border stop the flow of illegal drugs? This is actually the million-dollar question (or the five-billion-dollar question).
Let’s assume that current immigration legislation and policy reforms weren’t effective, and the number of border apprehensions and successful unlawful entries were increasing. Would a border wall be an effective policy response? Or is a border wall just “feel good legislation” with potentially disastrous unintended effects?
First, we need to ascertain whether the immigrants who attempt to cross the border unlawfully are criminals, and if so, what crimes have they committed. And second, we need to determine how illegal drugs are coming into the United States.
Let’s tackle the first issue. President Trump has stated on numerous occasions that the majority of undocumented immigrants are criminals. But, more often than not, Trump uses statistics that are either patently false or completely out of context.
For instance, in Trump’s January 8, 2019 address to the nation about the border wall, he stated that among the undocumented immigrants ICE detained in 2018, 266,000 had criminal records or pending criminal charges. First, the number of undocumented immigrants apprehended in 2018 is actually 138,117 (per ICE records).
Now remember, right after Trump stated that we needed the wall to keep the criminals out of the country and then referenced the 266,000 immigrants with criminal records, he listed off crimes such as murder, drug trafficking and sexual assault, so one would expect that these crimes would be on the top of the list. But actually, they aren't. They are at the bottom. What Trump failed to mention is that the majority of the crimes undocumented immigrants are charged with are immigration-related (“illegal entry” and “illegal reentry”) or minor traffic offenses.
Per ICE's "Fiscal Year 2018 ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Report," among all crimes undocumented immigrants had been previously charged with before coming into the US in 2018,
30% were for minor traffic offenses
20% were for immigration-related crimes
14% were for past drug offenses (not trafficking)
1% were for sexual assault
.35% were for homicide
.32 were for commercial sex trafficking
So, we now know that the majority of immigrants attempting to enter our country unlawfully through the southwest border are not criminals, but they become criminals if they’re apprehended and charged with unlawful entry.
Now, about the drug issue. Do you remember when President Trump said, “As horrible as it sounds when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them — they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over.” Yeah, that never happened.
According to government records, drugs are coming into the country primarily via cross border tunnels (266 have been found since 1990, many of which have ventilation and elevators), magnetic capsules placed under unsuspecting US citizens' cars crossing the border, cargo trains, tractor-trailers, passenger buses, trucks and trains driven by those with legal documentation to enter the US (often transports carrying fresh produce such as watermelons, limes and other fruits and vegetables), small speedboats (311 boats caught between 2011-2016), and ultralight aircraft (534 planes caught between 2011-2016).
It’s very rare, if not completely unheard of that the drug cartels would use undocumented immigrants coming across the border to work or seek asylum as drug mules. Why? Because they are at the highest risk of apprehension. It simply makes no sense, and there is no evidence to back up Trump's claims. None whatsoever.
It’s really disingenuous for President Trump to link opioid deaths to undocumented immigration, as he did in his January 8th address. I can only assume he did this to get us all riled up and angry, because the opioid crisis is ravaging our country and he knows most of us are upset about that.
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Dr. Michelle Martin is a social worker, policy specialist and Assistant Professor at California State University, Fullerton in the Department of Social Work, where she teaches social welfare policy, and researches dynamics related to immigrants, political asylum-seekers, refugees and other displaced populations.