About That Wall

A yellow flower

This seems like a good time to talk facts about the wall.

There are, at the moment, 654 miles of fence in place. The border runs for almost two thousand miles, but much of that land is utterly unsuitable for building any kind of barrier: the Rio Grande, for instance, forms over twelve hundred miles of the border. There’s no way to build a wall on that stretch that wouldn’t mess with the river and cause enormous problems. The remainder of the proposed wall would mostly be built in remote and unpopulated areas, and would require enormous amounts of money for maintenance and monitoring.

That being established, let’s look at what Trump is claiming:

CRISIS CRISIS CRISIS OH MAH GAWD THE SKY IS FALLING PEOPLE ARE BEING MURDERED IN THEIR BEDS OH THE HORROR OF IT ALL.

I think that about sums it up, don’t you? The word “crisis” features pretty heavily in everything Trump, Pence, and Nielsen are saying. Take a look here if you don’t believe me.

Now let’s look at some numbers.

Nationwide, nearly a thousand people were shot by police officers in 2018.

In 2018, there were over eleven thousand deaths from gun violence in the United States. (NOT including suicide.) Over five hundred of those were children and over two thousand were teenagers.

And how many people were actually killed in 2018 by illegal immigrants?

Trump has said sixty three thousand — since 2011. There are some serious problems with both that figure and his source for that figure, which comes down to a report from … wait for it … 2005 (Can you do the backwards math?) …. fourteen year old data that wasn’t even correct at the time

Here’s another check on that data, from Snopes this time.

But wait, what’s the real number then? Surely someone must have a factual number on just how many deaths really truly came from illegal immigrants who snuck past the border intent on killing and raping and destroying our country? Someone? Anyone?

Mollie Tibbets. Kathryn Steinle. Jamiel Shaw II. Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver. Detective Michael Davis.

These names have all been mentioned by Trump in his various speeches as proof of his claims that the country is in a crisis and that illegal immigrants are dangerous. And it is absolutely terrible what happened to each and every one of them.

It’s also not adding up to sixty three thousand people. It’s not adding up to a crisis. Did you know that as of February 2017, we have VOICE: Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement? It’s a department of ICE, and it (supposedly) issues quarterly reports about immigrant based violence. The first report came out in June 2018 and lists seven case studies, each of which resulted in deportation. One involved a murder from thirty years ago.

Again: all horrible, all dreadful, and nowhere near a crisis.

I took a serious search for hard numbers that support the idea of a crisis at any level related to murders from illegal immigration, and I can’t find any. Everything comes back to “Trump Says” based on anecdotes and significantly flawed interpretation of outdated data. Real studies, like the February 2018 study by the Cato Institute , show that illegal immigrants are LESS likely to be convicted of crimes than native born Americans. Or the March 2018 study in Criminology that shows a DECREASE in crime when there are more illegal immigrants in a community.

But the people coming across the border are criminals, right? Well… yeah, because they’re coming across the border. It’s a circular argument. It’s not a case of murdering rapist drug dealing monsters coming across the border in a wave; the crimes they’re guilty of are predominantly immigration related, not violent. Failing to separate the two is nonsense, but combining non-violent and violent offenses is the only way Trump can hit the high numbers to scare and impress his base.

Illegal drugs! A wave of illegal drugs! Only no, not that either. Most drugs come through legal ports, smuggled through cargo containers and fish barrels. And as far as a wall stopping the drug trade, let’s look at several ways that the smugglers have already developed to work around that: Tunnels. Drones. Jet Skis and trebuchets (seriously). None of that will be affected by building a wall.

How about the number of people sneaking past the border, though? Surely there’s a crisis there! Ah, no. In 2000, Border Patrol apprehended over a million people. In 2014, that dropped to under half a million. In 2018 they apprehended about two hundred and fifty thousand. That’s a pretty steep drop. Kind of the opposite of a crisis, actually….

There was a rise in border crossings in October and November. The majority were seeking asylum, and are being detained in the infamous, overcrowded detention centers, or being turned back around into Mexico to wait for their claim to be processed.

And how about that process? Well, the government shutdown is currently making it harder for immigrants to get through the legal process of asylum claims: over forty thousand hearings have been canceled. Mind you, the bulk of what’s being pointed to as “illegal immigrant numbers” are, in fact, folks just like this, who are waiting on a hearing. By the way, the linked article from NPR points out that “The [asylum] case backlog has risen almost 50 percent since President Trump took office.”

So, really, the shutdown is making the entire problem of asylum claims harder to resolve, not easier; Trump’s efforts have significantly worsened the “crisis”, not bettered it.

All right, let’s move away from numbers and studies. Let’s look at (shudder) memes. I will say up front that I generally dislike political memes with a passion, no matter what side they’re on. There just isn’t room for nuance in a meme: it’s a blunt club meant to bash out the most ignorant possible take on any given situation.

That being said, here are two memes (I couldn’t stomach talking about more than two right now). You’ve probably seen them. I’m not going to show the pictures, but I’m sure you’ll recognize the description.

Meme #1:
Photo of a woman running away from tear gas with two young kids in tow. Caption: “If you bring your children to attack another country’s border, you’re not a victim, you’re a horrible mother.”

Ah, where to start. Let’s assume something, shall we? Let’s assume that this particular woman and her children are human beings, just like you and I. Let’s assume that they’re reasonably intelligent, and once had a home, and jobs, and lives, just like you and I. If you can’t make that assumption, please, just stop reading now and fuck off into the sun.

All right. The rest of you, thanks for sticking with me. Now, this perfectly normal human being, with perfectly normal kids, made the incredibly bizarre decision to leave their lives behind and trek thousands of miles in hopes of applying for asylum in another country. What could possibly have caused that? Either the woman is completely insane, or things got so bad that it seemed a safer bet to risk applying for asylum at the US-Mexico border. Let’s assume, as a matter of statistics, that she’s not insane. There were thousands of people trying to apply for asylum at the time of that photo, remember.

Is she attacking the border? With two small children in tow, one of whom is literally still in diapers? Maybe she threw a rock. Unlikely, but let’s say she got angry and frustrated and did something so foolish. It would have been uphill, at a very tall fence, at soldiers wearing body armor and holding guns. Does that constitute an attack on the border? Really?

All right, let’s say there were a couple hundred women and children running at the fence and yelling and throwing rocks. Is that an attack? Unarmed civilians against a fence with, as mentioned, armed soldiers in body armor behind it? Hmmm. I don’t really see it.

So it’s not an attack on the border, which guts most of the meme. Assuming the woman is competent and has good reasons for leaving her entire life behind demolishes the rest. Moving on….

By the way, if you want more about the caravan misinformation memes, Jim C Hines has a great roundup. Given that there’s another group coming north from Honduras at the time of this post, it might be useful to take a look, as the same memes will probably be recycled in the days ahead.

Meme #2:
Photo of Chuck Schumer. Caption: “I’m Chuck Schumer. I shut the government down because I refused to agree to fund $5B for a wall. The same amount of money we pay every 20 days on illegals.”

The numbers here are really … interesting.

Let’s start by looking at the five billion tag, to start off with. Why use that particular amount, when the entirety of the proposed project is most definitely going to exceed twenty billion, and quite possibly hit fifty billion over the next three years? Well, it’s a nice even sort of number, easy to point to as a sliver of the federal budget. Much easier to sell to Republicans and Trump’s base than the higher final total. But here’s the thing: if you agree to five billion, you’re either committing to have a fight every year for the next chunk and the next and the next, or you’re accepting a price tag of between twenty to fifty billion dollars on this project. It makes total sense to me that the Democrats are digging their heels in here, before things get even further out of hand. There’s a good breakdown of that angle here.

Now, let’s look at the costs involved in illegal immigration. Trump has claimed that illegal immigration costs over $113 billion a year. That number apparently comes from a 2013 report from a group called the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Divide 113 billion by 20 and yeah, you get about five billion. Except it’s not that simple. Take a look here for a breakdown of what’s off about that calculation.

Essentially, the problem is that FAIR, like Trump, tends to mess about with numbers to make its claims more appealing.

The other half of the problem here is that Schumer didn’t shut the government down. Trump did. Trump continues to both claim ownership of the shutdown and blame the Democrats, in a dizzying illogical mess. It’s entirely possible that if his word could be trusted for even five minutes at a stretch, he’d have more traction overall. But that ship has not only sailed, it’s been blown up, rebuilt, sunk, repaired, and shattered (repeat multiple times with appropriate modifiers). Charlie Brown is no longer going to try for the football Lucy is holding at this point.

Is there a need for border security? IS drug smuggling a huge problem? Of course. Nobody is disputing that. What’s being flatly refused is the concept of spending five billion-but-really-twenty-to-fifty-billion on a physical barrier that won’t address issues like trebuchets, tunnels, and JetSkis. A wall would absolutely funnel more traffic toward the ports of entry, which would absolutely make it easier for agents to sift through and discover the smugglers. But there’s a point of diminishing returns with a physical barrier, especially given the already-occurring ecological impact from current wall construction, noted by Scientific American to include erosion, flooding, and wildlife migration issues.

What’s the answer? Nothing simple, that’s for sure. The only clear thing out of this whole mess is that Trump and his supporters are manipulating the numbers. They’re more interested in putting on a dog and pony show than actually working out something useful. And let’s all remember: Trump isn’t getting hurt by any of this. He really isn’t. Politically, sure, but financially, once he gets out of office he’s richer than ever. I really think that’s all he cares about: watching everything around him break while he piles up the cash. But that’s a topic for a whole other post, so I’ll leave it alone for now.

For now: keep calling your congresscritters and senators, keep bookmarking fact based talking points, and don’t give up hope. Reach out to those around you who are in distress from this foolishness, give what you can, and never, ever stop shouting sanity to the world.

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