For the past couple of weeks, the U.S. government has been in the second longest shutdown in the nation’s history. The catalyst for this shutdown has been the Trump administration’s push to secure $5 billion in funding for the construction of a wall along the southern border, which Democrats in the House have refused to allocate.
The nominal purpose of building the wall is to prevent illegal immigration; the difficulty of achieving such a task is matched in magnitude only by how ineffective the wall would be upon completion. Most undocumented immigrants are temporary guest workers who came into the country by legal means. Moreover, the southern border is already fenced off almost everywhere that it is physically and legally possible, and it has been increasingly militarized over the course of the past few decades. “The Wall” that Trump and the Republican base have rallied around should be understood as a symbolic project representing their worldview rather than a feasible policy proposal.
The nativist ideology of the Trump GOP holds that there are rights exclusive to those who meet a narrowly defined form of citizenship and condones the use of violence against non-citizens to exclude them from these rights. Driven by a Malthusian view of resources combined with the demonization of immigrants as parasitic and violent, the idea of the wall represents a siege mentality. The country must be transformed into a “Fortress America” to protect it from imagined invaders, despite the reality that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than their native-born counterparts and provide more in taxes to the state than they receive in benefits. This is the mindset that justifies firing tear gas on families arriving at the border trying to go through the legal process of applying for refugee status.
Claims that anti-immigrant policies are motivated by economic incentives to protect wages and jobs for the existing American workforce are false. Rather than keeping wages higher by reducing the supply of labor, the criminalization of “illegal immigrants” lowers wages. Immigrants living and working in the United States illegally aren’t able to take any recourse against abuses by their employers and aren’t subject to minimum wage restrictions. Undocumented immigrants are the labor force that drives American agriculture.
Rather than persecuting migrants and expanding a national security state that imprisons and neglects children, the southern border should be demilitarized. After all, the border between the United States and Canada is not fenced off and patrolled by armed law enforcement, and those invading Canadians have yet to destroy our country or drain our maple syrup supply. Migrant workers deserve to be welcomed, especially when the ongoing climate crisis means that there is so much work to be done.