NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 8, 2006

It's time to build a real fence or a wall along every foot of the 1,989 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border, says Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson. There can be only two arguments against this approach to keeping out illegal immigrants: (1) it won't work -- possible, but we won't know unless we try; or (2) we don't want it to work -- then, we should say so and open our borders to anyone but criminals and terrorists.

Either way, we need more candor in our immigration debates. Now is the time, because Congress is considering its first major immigration legislation in years, he says.

  • In 2005 the Border Patrol stopped 1.19 million people trying to enter the United States illegally; 98.5 percent of them were caught along the southern border.
  • Of those who got through and stayed (crude estimate: some 500,000 annually), about two-thirds lack a high school education.
  • Legal immigration totals 750,000 to 1 million people annually, many of them also unskilled.

Even a country as accepting of newcomers as the United States cannot effortlessly absorb infinite numbers of poor and unskilled workers, says Samuelson. However, advocating a fence looks and feels bad, it's easily stigmatized as racist and it would antagonize Mexico. The imagery is appalling, he says, but it beats the alternative: a growing underclass and social tensions.

Moreover, a genuine fence would probably work. The construction of about 10 miles of steel and concrete barriers up to 15 feet high in San Diego has reduced illegal crossings in that sector by about 95 percent since 1992, reports Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a supporter of a U.S.-Mexico fence. Sure, there will be tunnels and ladders. But getting in will be harder and policing will be easier, says Samuelson.

Source: Robert J. Samuelson, "Build a Fence -- And Amnesty," Washington Post, March 8, 2006.

For text (subscription required):


Browse more articles on Government Issues