Another Perspective

Wall Costs Worth It

New efforts to restrict illegal immigration are causing economic disruptions -- understandably so.

By 9.27.06

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Now that Congress is voting to build fences, punish burrowing illegals, and require Real ID's for citizens, (agri-)businessmen and consumers are aghast that improving border security already costs them.

The added expense isn't just in resources like fence lumber, brick mortar, technology, and security manpower. No, it's hitting home now that the new efforts to restrict illegal immigration may cause serious economic disruptions. Have you noticed the cost of lettuce lately?

The New York Times reported Friday that some orchards are suffering from a paucity of pear pickers (sorry, William Safire). Turns out that growers in Northern California couldn't find the labor to pull the fruit from their branches, so now the stench from fallen rotted pears will remind farmers of the year the economics of improved border security hit home. Washington and New York apple growers face similar problems.

Call it the first of the new growing pains associated with a safer country, if Congress keeps it up. America has lived so long with artificially lower costs (partly) associated with inadequate border security that now any serious attempt to protect the homeland may create sticker shock -- in this case, the little oval one on your grocery store produce.

Illegal immigration opponents have often expressed their concerns over what aliens are costing taxpayers, because they can access services like health care and education in equal measure without matching the associated outlays that the average legal citizen must make. Now as those objections gradually get alleviated, consumers will now have to get it drilled through their melons that labor costs for agricultural products -- i.e., all food -- could soar due to the new policies. Less palatable pear prices may be reflected. Look for similar increases in new housing, low-skill services, and fast food, as legal immigrants and natural-born Americans begin to work in industries previously dominated by low-wage illegals. Employers may have no choice but to up their wages to attract a viable, legal labor pool to their previously undesirable jobs -- that is, if you buy that argument.

Most Americans appear willing to pay, but the Wall Street Journal's editors say it's all so unnecessary. In an editorial published on their website Sunday, they said the border wall with Mexico -- "Price tag...: $7 billion" (you are supposed to pause in stunned silence by that figure) -- diverges from the Reagan-era policy "to tear down walls, not erect them." Never mind that the Gipper sought freedom for those under political (and other) oppression, as opposed to today's need for national protection and limiting the immigration burden. It's like comparing rotten apples to mushy pears.

But the Journal didn't stop there:

Last week the House passed legislation that would deputize local police forces as agents of the border patrol. This will further burden local law enforcement that already has enough work handling bona fide felons. What we have here is panicked Republicans engaging in pre-election theatrics as they seek to remind voters that they're tough on the illegal immigration problem they've done nothing to actually solve.

So law enforcement should only concern themselves with felons who have legitimate IDs? The newspaper is actually right that the GOP is acting out of fear because it has ignored the illegal immigration problem -- in many ways because of those who make up the Journal's business choir. But just as bloggers forced a reluctant Congress into the establishment of an earmarks database, so also are Republicans pressured to catch up on the long-ignored illegals problem. Elections can be useful to get politicians to respond to the will of the people, even if it's long overdue, so we'll stomach the "theatrics" that accompany the legislation so long as it's real action and not pantomime.

But the Journal even downplays the numbers of those who believe a border barrier -- as though that were the only piece of the plan -- will affect illegal immigration:

Few really believe that a fence will do much to keep out those who threaten our safety, such as smugglers, drug runners or terrorists. None of the 9/11 terrorists snuck across the Mexican border illegally; they entered the U.S. with lawful visas. Nor will a wall deter illegal workers, who are drawn here by the powerful magnetic pull of economic opportunity and plentiful jobs.

Right, the believers are so few that they successfully hassled their representatives into building a 700-mile fence, among other immigration restraints. And the Journal allows the "no 9/11 terrorists crossed the Mexican border" red herring to flop across the boat deck in search of water that will hold it. Meanwhile observant Americans see a threat every time they watch TV footage of illegals streaming across the border. Adherents of open immigration see enhancement of their profit margins.

If editors of the nation's largest stock-focused publication were honest with their readers, they would tell them a fence is only part of a successful U.S. strategy for border security and reducing illegal immigration. Advancing legislation that improves enforcement and creates stronger penalties for border tunnelers further fortify the overall immigration plan.

The question is, will consumers tolerate higher costs if they come? Or will they need to in an age of Wal-Mart-style efficiency? Americans have demanded border protection with seeming little concern for the economic sacrifice. But they need to eat their veggies, so the market will demand reasonable prices for food, and who knows, maybe it will lead to a secure guest worker program.

But first things first, and in this election season in which the Republicans' outlook is improving because of security issues, border protection is paramount. Had Congress and the president dealt with the problem sooner when they should have, they might be working on a viable guest-worker program right now. Instead they will have to wait until consumers demand it.

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About the Author

Paul Chesser publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, a news aggregator for North Carolina, and is a contributor of articles, research and investigative reports for both national and state-level free-market think tanks.