A Conspicuous Absence from the Debate: Immigration

 A Conspicuous Absence from the Debate: Immigration

In the first U.S. presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle, candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump coined several new terms and phrases. Trump, who once boasted of having the “best words,” introduced the term “big” to mean the adverbial form of the adjective “big.” Clinton, for her part, introduced the term “Trumped-up trickle-down economics,” a failed attempt to gain some laughter. Trump mentioned “stamina” a confusing number of times. When Clinton talked about her father’s dealings as a drapery maker, it sounded like the commentary on the HGTV show Property Brothers. Interestingly, however, no words were exchanged about Donald Trump’s immigration policy.

As outlined in his website, the foundation of Trump’s immigration reform initiative rests on the notion that “a nation without borders is not a nation.” Ambitiously, the Republican candidate claims he will force Mexico to pay for the massive construction project. Yet, Trump’s critics consider the logic behind this assumption fairly preposterous. First, the government would use its tenuous legal authority to mandate banks to require proof of American citizenship or lawful residency before allowing customers to transfer money overseas. However, such a policy would be burdensome and not specifically target Mexican immigrants. Data from the Pew Research Center demonstrates that over 80 percent of remittances, or money sent abroad, are not sent to Mexico.


Although Mexico receives the largest share of U.S. remittances of any single country, most are sent to East Asia and India. Thus, the method Trump proposes to force Mexico to pay for a wall would harm millions of non-Mexican immigrants and tarnish U.S. relations with other countries. Furthermore, building a physical barrier securing the 1,954-mile border between the United States and Mexico is an engineering, environmental, economic, and legal impossibility. Although the Republican presidential nominee has estimated the cost at $10 billion, construction experts call the prediction low.

Preliminary analysis has placed the cost at least $26 billion. Building costs would increase in remote areas where infrastructure is lacking, and continual maintenance would ensure the wall would remain costly years after it has been constructed. Moreover, the measure would require excessive use of eminent domain to acquire privately owned land, a move that would prompt a significant public backlash. Obtaining property from the federal government is difficult, requiring lengthy and costly negotiations.

Even if a wall were erected, ensuring it was truly impenetrable would be impossible. Trump plans to overcome this obstacle by tripling the number of on-duty border patrol officers. However, considerable money has already been allocated to the border police. In ten years, Congressional appropriation for border security increased from $1.5 billion in 2005 to $3.8 billion in 2015. This funding increase has expanded the number of ICE officers by 500 percent.


It would have been good to hear the candidates speak on this issue at the debate if only to listen to the new terms they would coin.

Dennis Bailey


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