At his State of the Union address, President Trump conflated opposition to a border wall with opposition to border security. “Now is the time for Congress [to pass border wall legislation] to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.”
Let’s set the record straight: Everyone, no matter their immigration position, opposes the criminality at the southern border. It’s just that on closer inspection, a border wall isn’t the best way to reduce it. A wall only tries to deal with the symptoms of illegal immigration, not its underlying cause, which is that people will always want to pursue a better life in America in the tradition of our forefathers.
A wall would not achieve its stated goals of reducing illegal immigration and drugs. It would merely further divert them to legal ports of entry, which is how they mostly arrive already.
In his address, Trump portrayed illegal immigrants as murderers, human traffickers, drug smugglers, MS-13 gang members, and parasites to the national economy. In reality, the overwhelming number of illegal immigrants are like the ones Trump’s golf clubs hired, hardworking and productive members of society.
The best way to actually improve border security and reduce criminality at the border is by separating these peaceful economic migrants from the criminal traffickers, drug dealers, and gang members looking to profit off them. And the best way to do that is by expanding work visas, so these people can enter the U.S. legally. Such reform would put some of the border criminals out of business while allowing border patrol agents to focus on the remaining ones without needing to divert their limited resources to would-be strawberry pickers or day laborers.
At the moment, there are essentially no employment visas for people without an advanced degree to come work in the U.S. and improve their lives in the fashion that built this country. Those who want to go from making $1 a day to $100 a day by doing the same job in the U.S. have no other choice but to try to come illegally. There is no “line.” Put yourself in their shoes. Wouldn’t you risk everything to come to the U.S. too?
A market-based work visa system could relieve this pressure on the border while providing a massive boost to the economy. Unemployment rates, including those for young, black, and Hispanic American, are at historic lows. There are currently 6.9 million unfilled jobs in the country, more than the total number of unemployed people. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that more than a million new home health care aides will be needed by 2026 alone. Across the country, countless businesses are forced to run below capacity because of a lack of employees, artificially reducing economic growth and standards of living.
Trump’s recent rhetoric suggests he could support such reform. In his address, he said, “I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.” Earlier this year he told farmers he wants to make it easier for immigrants to “come in and to work on the farms.” Yet his legal immigration actions, upon which he must truly be judged, tell the opposite story. He has supported fringe legislation to cut legal immigration in half, promised to end birthright citizenship, and pursued countless administrative actions that have reduced legal immigrant flows.
Courageous Republicans looking to avoid the political fallout from another government shutdown should take the lead on this reform. Expanded work visas used to be the Republican solution to immigration. “Rather than talking about putting up a fence,” said then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980, “why don’t we … make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit?” In 2004, President George W. Bush proposed a new temporary worker program that would issue extended non-sector specific work visas, with availability fluctuating based on the number of available jobs in the country.
Work visas would overcome conservative worries about immigrants leeching off the state. Armed with jobs, immigrants would immediately contribute economically and fiscally.
The fact that work visas would do more for border security than a wall ever could is just the kicker. Those who oppose a wall aren’t opposed to border security as Trump claims. They’re just looking for something more meaningful than a band-aid solution.
Jordan Bruneau is a senior policy analyst at the Becoming American Initiative, a group dedicated to promoting the positive impact that immigrants have on society.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.