Build the Wall? No, Build the Law


     “Build the Wall” has become a popular political tagline regarding immigration. It started with the Presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump and remains a key point in immigration reform debates. Essentially, the concept is to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to stop the flow of human and drug trafficking. Supporters believe this will stop people from crossing the border illegally and lower the amount of drugs entering the U.S.

     Of course, the concept of building a wall across the roughly 2,000-mile-long, uneven multi-terrain border presents a few hurdles…

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

      First, there is the age-old concept that if you build a ten-foot wall, then I can build an eleven-foot ladder. If you build a five-foot foundation, I can build a tunnel six-feet deep. With $100 and a trip to Michael’s Stores, I can probably design a ten-foot-wide fake bush to hide under. Now that the design of the wall has shifted to see-through or transparent (to avoid the certainly inevitable scenario where a drug dealer throws his drugs over the fence and hits someone), it will be easier to manipulate and avoid capture when a person can see through to the other side and plan better. A wall will not stop people whose ultimate goal is to cross the border by any means possible.

For the Love of Money

     Second, the projected cost continues to rise (not withstanding who pays for it, which is another idiotic debate all together). As of now, the estimated cost is somewhere between $20-$70 billion dollars, and accounts for labor, supplies, eminent domain/private land sales, rough terrain construction and levees along the Rio Grande River, among others. In order for this wall to be as effective as supporters want it to be, then it has to be maintained properly: manning the wall with more border patrol agents, drone surveillance, cameras, upkeep, maintenance and, sadly, proper resources for the possibility of rescuing lost or abandoned border-crossers in the sweltering desert.

     The $20-$70 billion number also does not account for the future, annual costs (again, billions of dollars per year). People who cross the border illegally may not pay taxes, but they do contribute economically to the United States from a commercial purchasing perspective. I’m not sure the economic benefits of a wall outweigh their, albeit small, contribution to United States consumerism.

 “I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” 

-Our, sigh, President everyone…

Facts are Stubborn Little Things

     Lastly, when speaking amount illegal immigration and drug smuggling, the numbers don’t justify the above cost/benefit analysis. Most reports show people who are in the United States without authorization are those who overstay their visas, not those who entered without authorization through the border (of course, to be fair, we will never know the true number of people who successfully cross the border). In addition, drug smugglers go to incredible lengths to transport drugs across the order, but most of it is through trains, planes and automobiles (and even submarine). So, will a border wall really stop people who are in the United States without proper status or drug smuggling?

     Whenever I hear a border wall argument, I almost always hear an additional tagline: “we are a nation of laws.” I agree. In the same sense, we are not a nation of walls. That is why my response to “build the wall” is, instead, to build the law. What I mean by this is not to amend or tweak the current IIRAIRA, but to redo the majority of Title 8. Of course, much of it will be redundant and taken from its current form, but in order to reform immigration, we need to build from new in consideration of the current reality.


     At this time in history, there are too many conflicting issues in the immigration debate. We attorneys at times struggle between the interpretation and implementation of sections of the Constitution, Title 8 of the United States Code, the Federal Code of Regulations, multiple district and circuit court jurisdictions and case law, Immigration Courts, BIA and AAO decisions, USCIS policy, Attorney General and Department of State interpretations and guidance, foreign affairs manual and more. We also struggle with delays in processing and court dates, constantly changing timelines and forms, judicial and officer discretion and rising immigration costs. All of the above are actively-changing interpretations and rules; in the last two years alone there have been dramatic changes to asylum qualifications, illegal-entry prosecutions, immigration court practice and case law involving crimes and immigration violations. Practicing immigration has become a game of chess because a client’s eligibility for relief to remain in the United States can change at any time. 

     Depending on where a non-citizen lives, it could mean the difference between removal from the United States and being able to remain and naturalize. State crimes conflict with federal immigration interpretation in every jurisdiction, so no person’s case is ever the same as another’s. As an attorney in the 3rd Circuit and practicing mostly in the Philadelphia Immigration Court system, the litigious battle to save our clients from removal continue with constant up and down changes.

Starting From Scratch

     I support not fixing that which is not broken, but our current immigration system is indeed broken. Time and time again, the solution to immigration problems has been temporary recourse, or just slightly tweaking the rules. DACA was the solution to dreamers and I-601A was the solution to long-time family separation. Even the infamous travel ban has undergone multiple revisions and court litigation. The wall is just another attempt to solve an issue that is only part of the immigration problems in this country. Instead of putting band-aids on immigration problems, let’s go to the doctor together. 

     While I support securing our borders and discouraging illegal crossings, I do not support dividing families and the pain that comes with it. While I support American jobs for American workers, I do not support throwing away foreign talent based on blind nationalism. While people who commit a crime should account for their actions, the penalty in some cases should not be permanent separation. And, while I could go on and on with examples of a balanced approach to immigration reform, it is not my job to do so: it is the job of Congress.