Here come the premises: I am against illegal immigration. I am in favor of legal immigration. I want our borders to be as open as possible, to encourage free trade and to encourage people to vote with their feet, choosing the United States as the best location to make one's home. Illegal immigration has become a serious problem, and must be addressed. I am with Teddy Roosevelt, who decried the phenomenon of "Hyphenated Americans". I believe that all official documents should be in English only- otherwise, we should have begun having official documents in English and German in the 1850s, and dozens of other languages in between then and now. No- that's a recipe for chaos. So...
When I think of fences at borders, none comes to mind before the Berlin Wall. It was symbolic of all that was wrong with Communism and the Soviet Union. The relatively open borders of the United States stood in stark contrast, perhaps more symbolically than in reality, but that symbolism was powerful, and defining.
It is why Ronald Reagan famously declared, "Mr. Gorbechev, tear down this wall". It was symbolic of the difference between liberty and repression.
So now President Bush considers building a wall- with the Guard today, and perhaps bricks and mortar tomorrow.
I am deeply concerned about the possibility of erecting a wall on the Mexican border. Obviously, the walls being talked about aren't meant to keep our people in against their will, as the Berlin Wall was. I suppose this is to be a sort of one-way wall, that allows anyone out, but only citizens and authorized visitors in.
Still, it stands in contrast with the words on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
The wall is going to be a great expense, if it is to be built. In the short run, the Guard stationed at the border will be a great expense. Problem is, a wall or Guardsmen can only affect supply, not demand. There is obviously demand for the services of illegal immigrants, or they wouldn't be coming here. What are the root causes?
Employers are desperate to avoid paying the myriad taxes that are levied against them when they hire citizens or legal guest workers. Employers are desperate for good workers at a low rate of pay. The demand for cheap labor won't go away once a wall is built. However, if the tax burden is lowered, more employers would feel real relief, would be less tempted to break the law by hiring illegals, and could begin to consider paying more for American labor. Obviously there is great reward for employers to run the risk of hiring illegal employment, or they wouldn't engage in the practice.
Illegal immigration is also very much a compliance issue, like so much else in America. Make it easier to become a legal immigrant, and more would take that path, just as simplifying the tax code would yield greater compliance, just as marginally lowering tax rates results in greater revenue yields.
But a wall, because it is symbolic, strikes accord across the political spectrum on a visceral level. It is not a rational solution.
No, after the wall is built, employers will still have high tax burdens, and therefore, the demand for illegal immigrants will still exist. Will we have to build a wall around Canada then? Will we have to build seawalls in the oceans?
Public policy on immigration must not merely address the fact of the immigrants. It must get to the root of the problem, which is our enormous tax burden.