Weighing the Pros and Cons of U.S.-Mexico Border Barrier

Immigration Issue Affects Economy, Human Lives and Message to the World

Border Security Unaffected By US Government Shutdown
John Moore/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The southern border of the United States shared with Mexico spans almost 2,000 miles. Walls, fences, and virtual walls of sensors and cameras monitored by the U.S. Border Patrol are already built along one-third of the border (approximately 670 miles) to secure the border and cut down on illegal immigration.

Americans are split on the border barrier issue. While most people are in favor of increasing the security of the borders, others are concerned that the negative impacts do not outweigh the benefits.

The U.S. government views the Mexican border as an important part of its overall homeland security initiative.

Cost of the Border Barrier

The price tag currently sits at $7 billion for border fencing and related infrastructure like pedestrian and vehicle fencing with lifetime maintenance costs expected to exceed $50 billion.

The Trump Administration and Mexican Border Enhancement

As a major part of his platform during the 2016 presidential campaign, President Donald Trump called for the construction of a much larger, fortified wall along the Mexico–United States border, and claimed Mexico will pay for its construction, which he estimated at $8 to $12 billion. Others estimates bring the cost closer to $15 to $25 billion. On January 25, 2017, the Trump administration signed a Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Executive Order to commence the building of the border wall.

In response, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said Mexico would not pay for the wall and canceled a scheduled meeting with Trump at the White House, seemingly straining relations between the two presidents.

History of the Border Barrier

In 1924, Congress created the U.S. Border Patrol. Illegal immigration increased in the late 1970s, but it was in the 1990s when drug trafficking and illegal immigration had a major uptick and concerns about the nation's security became an important issue. Border Control agents and the military succeeded in reducing the number of smugglers and illegal crossings for a period of time, but once the military left, activity again increased.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., homeland security was again a priority. Many ideas were tossed around during the next few years on what could be done to permanently secure the border. And, in 2006, the Secure Fence Act was passed to build 700 miles of double-reinforced security fencing in areas along the border prone to drug trafficking and illegal immigration. President Bush also deployed 6,000 National Guardsmen to the Mexico border to assist with border control.

Reasons for the Border Barrier

Historically, policing borders has been integral to the preservation of nations around the globe for centuries. The construction of a barrier to safeguard American citizens from illegal activities is considered by some to be in the best interest of the nation. The pros of a border barrier include overall homeland security, the cost of lost tax revenue and strain on government resources and the past successes of border enforcement.

Rising Cost of Illegal Immigration

Illegal immigration is estimated to cost the United States millions of dollars, and according to Trump, $113 billion a year in lost income tax revenue. Illegal immigration is considered a strain on government spending by overburdening social welfare, health and education programs.

Border Enforcement Past Success

The use of physical barriers and high-tech surveillance equipment increases the probability of apprehension and have shown success. Arizona has been the epicenter for crossings by illegal immigrants for several years. In one year, authorities apprehended 8,600 people trying to enter the U.S. illegally in the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range used for air-to-ground bombing practice by Air Force pilots.

The number of people caught crossing San Diego's border illegally has also dropped dramatically. In the early 1990s, about 600,000 people attempted to cross the border illegally. After the construction of a fence and increased border patrols, that number dropped to 39,000 in 2015.

Reasons Against the Border Barrier

The question of the effectiveness of a physical barrier that has workarounds is a significant concern to those opposed to a border barrier.

The barrier has been criticized for being easy to get around. Some methods include digging under it, sometimes using complex tunnel systems, climbing the fence and using wire cutters to remove barbed-wire or locating and digging holes in vulnerable sections of the border. Many people have also traveled by boat through the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Coast or fly in and overstay their visas.

There are other concerns such as the message it sends to our neighbors and the rest of the world and the human toll of crossing the border. In addition, a border wall affects wildlife on both sides, fragmenting the habitat and disrupting essential animal migration patterns. 

Message to the World

A segment of the American population feels that the United States should send a message of freedom and hope to those seeking a better way of life instead of sending a "keep out" message at our border. It is suggested that the answer does not lie in barriers; it entails comprehensive immigration reform, which means these immigration issues need fixing, instead of building fences, which are as effective as putting a bandage on a gaping wound.

In addition, a border barrier divides the land of three indigenous nations.

Human Toll on Crossing the Border

Barriers won't stop people from wanting a better life. And in some cases, they're willing to pay the highest price for the opportunity. People smugglers, called "coyotes," charge astronomical fees for passage. When smuggling costs rise, it becomes less cost-effective for individuals to travel back and forth for seasonal work, so they remain in the U.S. Now the whole family must make the trip to keep everyone together.

Children, infants and the elderly attempt to cross. The conditions are extreme and some people will go for days without food or water. According to the Human Rights National Commission of Mexico and American Civil Liberties Union, almost 5,000 people have died attempting to crossing the border between 1994 and 2007.

Environmental Impact

Most environmentalists oppose the border barrier. Physical barriers hinder migrating wildlife, and plans show the fence will fragment wildlife refuges and private sanctuaries. Conservation groups are appalled that the Department of Homeland Security is bypassing dozens of environmental and land-management laws in order to build the border fence. More than 30 laws are being waived, including the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
McFadyen, Jennifer. "Weighing the Pros and Cons of U.S.-Mexico Border Barrier." ThoughtCo, Oct. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/mexico-border-fence-pros-and-cons-1951541. McFadyen, Jennifer. (2017, October 9). Weighing the Pros and Cons of U.S.-Mexico Border Barrier. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/mexico-border-fence-pros-and-cons-1951541 McFadyen, Jennifer. "Weighing the Pros and Cons of U.S.-Mexico Border Barrier." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/mexico-border-fence-pros-and-cons-1951541 (accessed December 11, 2017).