By: Zachary Greenberg | Opinions  | 

Don’t Build It

On Dec. 22, 2018, the United States government entered a partial shutdown, the third and longest such shutdown in the history of the United States. Under the Constitution, Congress periodically passes a bill that approves the federal government spending over the next few weeks or months. Once the bill expires, a new bill must be written. However, if a new bill is not agreed upon, a partial government shutdown occurs resulting in several government agencies (excluding major programs like the military and Social Security) either stopping to provide services or staying open while forcing their employees to work without pay.

Currently, President Trump wants funding included in the next spending bill to start building the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Trump believes that the wall would more efficiently keep illegal immigrants from entering the country. Trump threatened that if funding for the wall was not included in the next bill, then he would veto the bill. So, the House of Representatives passed a bill including the $5.7 billion dollars for funding the wall, but the bill did not garner the requisite 60 votes to pass in the Senate. Since there was no bill passed, there was no funding for the government, forcing a partial shutdown.

Whether the wall will help protect our borders or not is up for debate. Supporters of the wall argue that the wall would help keep out illegal immigrants. They argue that many of these illegal immigrants unfairly take away jobs from U.S. citizens, bring in drugs into the U.S., avoid paying taxes and many of whom are in gangs causing crimes. They believe that the wall will protect the integrity and safety of the United States if built. Opponents of the wall argue that the wall will be very difficult to build and would have to stretch over 2,000 miles, cutting through mountains, rivers, bridges and people’s homes. The building of the wall would be extremely expensive, costing anywhere from $15-25 billion. Further, maintaining the wall is estimated to cost around $48.3 billion over the first decade which will have to come out of taxpayers’ pockets.

Given that other methods of border security can be met at cheaper costs, building a wall is not the most cost-effective solution. There is already a border wall that stretches nearly 700 miles and follows alongside the highest traffic areas. Instead of spending billions of dollars on building a massive wall, the government should spend more money developing “virtual walls” which could be made up using cameras, satellites and sensors to detect intruders. Currently, there are sensors tested by Quanergy in Del Rio, Texas which can detect a person up to 100 meters away. While a physical wall is estimated to cost around $24.5 million per mile, the virtual wall is estimated to only cost around $500 thousand per mile. Furthermore, the wall will prove to be ineffective since it’s estimated that anywhere from 27-40 percent of illegal immigrants sneak into the U.S. using planes, not by crossing the borders. With a border fence already in place and the potential of creating a more effective and cost-efficient virtual wall, the need for a new, physical wall becomes obsolete. Additionally, research has shown that both undocumented immigrants and legal immigrants are less dangerous than native-born Americans. The libertarian Cato Institute found that the imprisonment rate for native-born Americans is 1.53 percent, while it is only 0.85 percent for undocumented immigrants and 0.47 percent for legal immigrants.

On Friday, Jan. 25, after 35 days of the shutdown, President Trump has agreed to temporarily reopen the government. Over the next three weeks, representatives of both the House and Senate will meet to negotiate new border security plans. For now, the government will remain fully opened, but if negotiations are to fail, another government shutdown may arise.

The partial shutdown created a lot of controversy and Americans were split on the issue. Supporters argue that the shutdown was a necessary maneuver to finally commence building the new wall. For roughly two years, Trump has been trying to gain funding for the wall, but to no avail. Supporters claim that shutting down the government will be the best way for lawmakers to finally include funding for the wall in the new bill. However, the shutdown resulted in about 800,000 government workers living without pay, many of whom were working and not expecting any compensation until the end of the shutdown. Additionally, some basic government functions like inspecting the national food supplies for disease and maintaining national parks were greatly reduced or stopped entirely.

While there needs to be increased border security to prevent illegal immigrants from bringing in drugs to the U.S. and harming U.S. citizens, the U.S. government didn’t need to shut down to achieve this goal. There were hundreds of thousands of people who were affected by the shutdown and it is not fair that they should be harmed over a political issue about border security.

A recent CNN opinions article argued that instead of having the funding included in the next bill and threatening to shut down the government if it is not, Trump should raise the money by issuing bonds to cover the cost. In general, throughout U.S. history, whenever there indeed is a “national crisis” and the government needs money, U.S. citizens have stepped up and purchased bonds to support the government. If the public agrees that the wall is necessary, then Trump should have no problem raising the money and he can follow through with his plan. If he falls short, then it is clear from public opinion that U.S. citizens do not deem the wall a worthy cause to support. If he really feels like there is a national emergency, then Trump can purchase the remaining bonds from his own pocket.