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Immigration Myth #1: Border walls work.

As opposed to the previous two posts that focused on a fallacy about immigrants, we now take on an actual myth. It is not just a fallacy. It is a myth that border walls work. They are a categorically bad geopolitical idea. It may be possible to find some example in history where a border wall actually achieved its purpose, but as a geopolitical construct, border walls simply do not work. (There is one very obvious objection to this assertion, to which I will respond in an addendum post.)

Why do border walls not work?
Presumably a wall is to keep out the unwanted (drugs, crime, undocumented immigrants). Borders walls and fences, however, have almost without exception failed spectacularly at doing so. (This is true even where the border obstruction is not a literal wall but rather a body of water or some other obstacle.) The reason is simple. As long as the motivation to go through, around, over, or under a wall is strong enough, people will do so. Newer walls, designed by brilliant engineers, cannot be evaded, you say? Newer technologies designed by equally brilliant engineers can avoid or penetrate those walls. (Oh, you didnt know that human and drug traffickers hire world-class engineers?) There is always another way (emphasis intended).

The North American drug trade is a multi-billion-dollar industry, of which most of the dollars are in the U.S. Why would drug cartels allow a wall or fence to stop them? Central America has suffered increasing, brutal, daily violence over the past decade or so that would leave most Americans shell shocked if they were even moderately aware of it. Thus, Central Americans will continue to look to other countries for safety and economic opportunities, whether they have visas or not. That tide of immigrants ebbs and flows with the vicissitudes of each community, but it cannot be stopped unless the motivation (freedom from violence and poverty) can be removed.

Do fences make good neighbors?
Many who support the idea of border walls have repeated the proverb that “fences make good neighbors.” A dubious idea at best. I have had neighbors without fences all of my adult life, in five different residences, and the absence of fences has never posed a problem. The nature of the neighbors seems to be the deciding factor. One can have good neighbors with or without fences, and bad neighbors with our without fences. Besides, the analogy is simply unworkable when applied at the international scale. Along those lines, the political rhetoric necessary to garner public support for border walls requires an alienation of geopolitical neighbors.

In the end, walls come down.
I owe this observation, and much of the previous reasoning, to Michael Dear and his book Why Walls Wont Work: Repairing the US-Mexico Divide. He makes the point that obstructions intended to divide countries or regions, whether to keep immigrants out or citizens in, must come down in the end. The most celebrated example is of course the Berlin Wall. Is that the legacy that any leader or country wants?


Not only do border walls not work, but they actually also create negative unintended consequences. They create international tension, waste government funds, and leave embarrassing legacies. There is one common objection to this argument, or one common proof offered for the effectiveness of border walls. That will be the subject of the next post.


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