George Boardman: Don’t expect reality to intrude on Trump’s argument for a border wall | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: Don’t expect reality to intrude on Trump’s argument for a border wall

George Boardman
Columnist

It's hard to know what kind of border security they're arguing about in Washington these days, an argument that has shut down one-fourth of the government.

President Trump's "big, beautiful wall" may become "beautiful steel slats," a more modest barrier than the concrete wall he wanted to build along the Mexican border when he was running for president.

John Kelly, Trump's outgoing chief of staff, said the idea of a concrete wall was abandoned months ago. "To be honest, it's not really a wall," he told the Los Angeles Times.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump's chief translator, dismissed the whole discussion as "semantics" while Senator Lindsey Graham views the wall as a "metaphor" for border security. Maybe Nancy Pelosi is right when she refers to the structure as a "beaded curtain."

Whatever you call it, Trump is insisting on a $5 billion down payment to begin work on a structure that Mexico is supposed to pay for. (We're now told Mexico will pay for the wall via the fabulous new trade deal we've concluded with that county and Canada, the one The Wall Street Journal described as worse than NAFTA "but not a disaster.")

Trump has been telling the American public since he started his campaign for president that the U.S. needs a border wall with Mexico to cut-off the hordes of illegal immigrants poring across the border to take good-paying American jobs, commit numerous crimes, and turn our fair country into an outpost of lawlessness.

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A lot of people dismissed this argument as simplistic if not simple minded, but it gained traction with a sizeable portion of the population who truly believe we are being overrun by illegals, along with nativists who don't want to see any more immigration, and racists who just want people coming here from western Europe.

These people — along with the usual cadre of cynical opportunists who attach themselves to any political movement — are said to make up Trump's base, the hard-core supporters who will never regret their vote for him. Trump views these people as crucial to his viability as president, and he's extremely sensitive to rumblings in the ranks.

A mini revolt erupted last month when he agreed to take a $1.6 billion down payment on his wall instead of the $5 billion he originally requested. The likes of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter panned the deal, and even somebody named Kennedy said he betrayed his supporters.

That caused Trump to back out of the compromise and go back to the $5 billion demand. Apparently acting on advice from the editorial page of The Wall Street, he's willing to make a deal on dreamers if he gets the money. (Who said the fake news media doesn't have any clout in this country?)

It's not clear if the Freedom Caucus and other immigration hardliners are willing to give the dreamers a pass, but this latest wrinkle distracts people from the real issue: If you really want to stop illegal immigration, a wall is not the solution.

If you don't believe me, let me cite some statistics from Trump's very own Department of Homeland Security. According to its Office of Immigration Statistics, an estimated 170,000 people entered the U.S. illegally in fiscal year 2016 by crossing our southern border—a 90 percent drop since 2000.

During the same year, an estimated 628,799 people who had entered the U.S. legally didn't return home when their visas expired. In other words, just 21 percent of the people who entered or stayed in the country illegally sneaked across the border. The Center for Migration Studies estimates that two-thirds of the people in this country illegally originally came here on legal visas.

"The number of attempts to get across the southern border is probably the lowest its been since the 1970s," said Robert Warren, a demographer for the center. "I'm surprised the Trump administration hasn't really focused on overstays. That's where the action is."

But focusing on overstays is hard work and doesn't come with the heavy symbolism a border wall provides. Now that he's convinced his base that a wall will solve our illegal immigration problem, he can't back away from it. Equally important, going after overstays does nothing to bolster Trump's claim that he's keeping illegals from taking good paying jobs from Americans, another myth that only the desperate, cynical and unenlightened embrace.

The reality is that foreign-born workers already account for 17 percent of the U.S. work force. It's even more pronounced in high tech, the one place where we still lead the rest of the world: Those born outside the U.S. make up 71 percent of tech workers in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area, the heart of Silicon Valley, according to an analysis of census data by the Seattle Times.

Nearly 40 years of empirical research offer little supporting evidence that those individuals are stealing American jobs, according to Giovanni Peri, an economics professor at UC Davis who specializes in immigration.

"If you look at U.S. cities and regions where immigration has been larger, or has an increasing share of the population, those are also the areas where employment of American workers has been growing faster," Peri said. Low-skilled workers often fill jobs Americans don't want, he said, while highly skilled, college-education immigrants grow the economy and create new jobs.

But you'll never hear about any of this from Trump because that isn't what his base of supporters wants to hear. He's been trapped by his own lies.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.

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