Jul 23, 2015 - 10:30am

Why Trump’s U.S.-Mexico Wall Wouldn’t Solve America’s Immigration Problems

Former Executive Director, Communications & Strategy


Donald Trump
Donald Trump's border security plans are missing the bigger picture. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Donald Trump has made plenty of noise lately - some of it over his border security ideas.

During several recent interviews, Trump has argued that the solution to our country’s immigration problems starts with an impenetrable wall stretching the length of the United States-Mexico border. Such a wall, he says, would go a long way toward stemming the tide of illegal immigrants flooding into the country from Mexico, and it could be built “easily.”

Though his remarks have garnered lots of attention, Trump, who will host an event on the U.S. Mexico border on Thursday, isn’t the first to suggest that a wall (or at least much more robust fencing or other physical barriers) would be a cure-all for our border problems.

While there have been questions raised about the feasibility of such a project, what’s being overlooked by both the Republican candidate and the media is that a wall dividing the U.S. and Mexico would hardly solve all our immigration problems. Instead, what we must realize is that any efforts to improve and better enforce our immigration laws will fall flat so long as our law enforcement tools and visa programs remain impractical and unworkable.

Consider, for a moment, the reason undocumented workers cross our border in the first place. In most cases, they are driven by economic opportunity, with many of them looking to fill the relatively low-skill and temporary jobs that U.S. employers cannot find enough American workers to fill.

Problem is, our country’s visa and temporary worker programs for those lesser-skilled but critically important workers are in many cases outdated and impractical; and for workers in occupations that aren’t seasonal, such programs are simply non-existent.

That poses two significant problems. First, those jobs often remain unfilled, and our economy suffers as a result. Second, those migrant workers are left with few alternatives but to enter our country illegally.

“A wall, more fencing, or other security measures at the border are best evaluated while also creating channels for workers to come to the United States to fill available jobs,” said Randel K. Johnson, the senior vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits issues at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He later added that “an orderly system of legal temporary worker programs that includes background checks for migrants seeking work would enhance security and shrink the haystack for law enforcement to focus on criminals and others.”

It's a message that Johnson and the Chamber have been championing for years. During a Senate hearing in March, Johnson testified that "expanding temporary worker programs for lesser-skilled occupations, when properly structured, will be good for the economy and will clearly enhance U.S. security and border control."

In other words, while a wall may or may not help treat some of the symptoms of our nation’s untenable immigration programs, it would do nothing to address the underlying problem. Only bold reforms and smart immigration policy in Washington can do that.

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About the Author

About the Author

Former Executive Director, Communications & Strategy

J.D. Harrison is the former Executive Director for Strategic Communications at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.