As the migrant caravan now sits on our southern border, President Trump is using it as an argument for Congress to fund his border wall. The president is so set on securing funding for the wall — reportedly at least $5 billion — that he is willing to shutdown the federal government when it runs out of money on December 7. He sees this as his last, best chance to fulfill his 2016 campaign promise to be very “strong” and “tough” on illegal immigration, as Democrats will assume the majority in the House of Representatives in January and have made clear that they do not believe the border wall is sound policy.
His quest is quixotic in more ways than one.
Truth be told, Trump has been remarkably weak on addressing illegal immigration. He pounds his chest while declaring that there is a “crisis” on the southern border where we are being “overwhelmed by uncontrolled masses of people rushing” the border and that it “costs us billions and billions and billions of dollars a year.”
Yet, Trump’s exclusive focus on our southern border is misplaced, and it reveals a lack of seriousness about, as well as understanding of, the realities of illegal immigration. Simply put, the crisis is not on our southern border, but rather in an area receiving little attention: Visa overstays.
Every year since 2007, according to a report by the Center for Migration Studies, the number of undocumented immigrants who overstayed their visas to remain in the United States out of status has outnumbered those illegally crossing the southern border — by at least 600,000. Further, two-thirds of undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. in 2014 alone simply overstayed their visa. The Center for Migration Studies expects that the trend of visa overstays to account for the majority of illegal immigration for the foreseeable future.
Despite this, the Trump administration has done nothing to address it. Instead, Trump continues to prattle on and perpetuate his claim that “the southern border is a big problem,” ignoring that, according to his Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics, the number of entries into the U.S. via illegal border crossing dropped 75 percent between 2000 and 2016.
Nevertheless, Trump persists with his chosen placebo: Building the wall. He has, however, dropped his campaign trail mantra that Mexico would pay for its construction and seemingly accepted that the United States will be responsible for the wall’s estimated $21.6 billion cost. However, Trump has not admitted the reality that not only will the wall take far longer to complete than the predicted 3.5 years, but will also cost far more than its public price tag.
In a July 2018 report from Trump's Government Accountability Office, eminent domain was identified as the main reason that the border wall “will cost more than projected [and] take longer than planned.”
In order to build the wall along the 1,954 mile United States-Mexico border — which runs through California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — the government would need to own the land on which it is planning to build. The Texas-Mexico border alone is 1,254 miles long, but only 100 miles are publicly owned, which means that the government would need to seize and provide just compensation to the private landowners.
However — just as happened with the border fence authorized by Congress in 2006 — it will take years, if not decades, to resolve all the outstanding issues to appropriate the land, due to landowners contesting the seizure and/or compensation in federal court.
And, not only is eminent domain a fiscal fool’s errand, it has long been an anathema to anti-big-government conservatives (though the president himself is a strong supporter of the use of eminent domain for private economic development) .
Instead of continuing to pursue the boondoggle of a border wall and wasting billions of taxpayer dollars in the midst of a trillion dollar (and climbing) budget deficit, President Trump should focus on the bigger problem of visa overstays. Bafflingly, he has not — which demonstrates his (possibly willful) ignorance about immigration as a whole.
That ignorance and lack of seriousness was on full display in October, when the president insinuated that the migrant caravan had terrorists in its ranks, tweeting, “Middle Easterners are mixed in.” One would think that Trump’s concerns about terrorism infiltration of the United States would extend to people overstaying their visa, as at least two of the 9/11 hijackers were in the United States on expired visas. But he has never addressed that at all.
Trump would be wise to listen to his occasional outside advisor. former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who during a 2016 GOP presidential debate inartfully suggested implementing a biometric entry and exit system. (Currently, the United States only collects biometric data when people enter the country.) Such a program would help the government to verify that visa holders have left the country, as well as help ICE to target those who remain in the United States out of status. And, when it comes to the southern border, Trump could instead push Congress to fund technological fixes including increased remote surveillance, which would cost far less than any wall and likely be just as effective.
Yet, President Trump and his administration have continues to focus their misguided immigration policies on the southern border while ignoring the elephant (on an expired visa) in the room. For someone who bills himself as tough when tackling the issue of illegal immigration, Trump‘s record reveals that he is anything but.