Today, President Donald Trump will reportedly issue an executive order to begin construction of a wall along the U.S-Mexico border. The long-awaited move follows through on one of Trump’s most visible campaign promises.
It’s also a big mistake. Not only would a wall be outrageously expensive — estimates range as high as $14 billion (and no, Mexico won’t pay for it) — but a wall is misguided because it addresses the exact wrong problem. The biggest immigration crisis facing the country has nothing to do with Mexicans illegally crossing the border. Instead, it’s that hundreds of thousands of Central Americans are fleeing brutal violence and extreme poverty in their home countries and seeking asylum in the United States — but our immigration system is overwhelmed and completely unprepared to handle the flood.
I know this issue firsthand. Over the past two decades, I have served in senior homeland security positions in both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations — first as policy director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the years after the 9/11 attacks, and most recently as assistant secretary of homeland security for border, immigration and trade policy in the Obama administration. During those years, I have seen an extraordinary transformation not only of our border, but also in our deepening relationship with Mexico.
It’s true that in the 1990s, the border was out of control, with illegal entries approaching 2 million a year. But since then, we’ve dramatically strengthened enforcement by tripling the size of the Border Patrol, deploying drones and, yes, constructing hundreds of miles of fence along the border. It’s now hard to cross, and the economics of human smuggling show this: It now costs 12 times more in real dollars to hire a “coyote” than 15 years ago. That’s dramatic bipartisan progress in securing our border, although you wouldn’t have known it from last year’s presidential campaign.
More importantly, Mexico has changed. Over the past two decades, it has grown into the world’s 11th largest economy, deeply integrated with ours through cross-border infrastructure and supply chains, all facilitated by binational efforts to reduce barriers to commerce at the border. As a result, there are good jobs for Mexicans in Mexico — and, thus, more reasons for Mexicans to stay. This was certainly true during our economic crisis of 2008-09, but it remains true today.
In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, more Mexicans now leave the U.S. than head north, and border apprehensions are down a whopping 75 percent since 2000. Simply put, fewer people are coming, and our border authorities catch and remove most who try.
This is not to say there isn’t a crisis, however. There is one, but it’s different from the one Trump thinks exists. It doesn’t involve Mexican migrants, and a wall won’t…….