TNH Columnists Debate Immigration Issue, the Wall and Fiscal Sincerity

March 13, 2019
Constantinos Scaros and Patrick Theros

Ambassador Patrick N. Theros and attorney/law professor Constantinos E. Scaros, regular columnists for The National Herald, will engage in a debate this week about President Donald Trump’s efforts to build a wall on the Southern border of the United States and related issues.

Constantinos E. Scaros, who is also known as Dino,  begins the discussion:

The very same politicians who advocated for building a physical barrier along our Southern border are now pretending that such an initiative is racist, xenophobic, and downright immoral.

To suggest that wanting a wall is linked to the nationality of those who might enter the United States illegally is as ludicrous as claiming that it is somehow racist to have a lock on the front door of one’s home. Sure, some of the wall supporters are Neanderthal racist yahoos living in the wrong century, but they’re only a fraction who give a bad name to the whole.

Few innocuous political proposals have received such backlash as building the wall. At best, a wall would go a long way toward helping to reduce the number of PHIs (Persons Here Illegally) in the United States, as well as the drugs, guns, and trafficked humans the worst of them smuggle in. At worst, it would do no harm.

Held to the standard of perfect budgeting, is there a more effective way to use the money to ensure border security? Probably. But since when did imperfect budgeting stop Congress from spending money? A few billion for a wall pales in comparison to the Pentagon’s infamous $700-for-a-hammer practice, not to mention hundreds of billions for nuclear warheads for a superpower that long amassed enough ammunition to blow up the entire planet many times over.

This feigned concern over fiscal prudence is nothing more than the Democrats’ transparent attempt to weaken President Trump’s chances for reelection in 2020 by taking away his flagship campaign promise in the hope of thwarting his base’s enthusiasm. In their relentlessness to unseat the president, the Democrats have, quite unfortunately, managed to hoodwink enough of the public into thinking a wall is too expensive and largely ineffective. Just because a wall by itself is not a panacea doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a component of the solution.

Moreover, we do have a national emergency: it’s not that dangerous, violent Persons Here Illegally (PHIs) are invading our nation by the millions, it’s that far too many on the left wouldn’t care if that were the case.
I close with the short essay on the back cover of my book Stop Calling Them “Immigrants,” titled “The House of the United States of America”:
“The natural-born citizen built the house. The naturalized citizen bought the house. The Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) rented the house. The nonimmigrant is a guest in the house. The PHI is a trespasser in the house. Let’s set up security cameras to detect those trespassers who are in the house – and then we’ll figure out what to do with them, based on their particular circumstances. But first and foremost, let’s secure the fortress around the property to ensure that no more trespassers come into the house uninvited. Then, we will have a country where the owner makes the decisions whether to allow people into the house before they cross the threshold.”

Ambassador Theros’ response: Why the Wall?

For the purpose of this discussion, Dino, I’ll use the term you coined, Persons Here Illegally (PHI), although I find it more emotionally loaded and less accurate that the official term “undocumented aliens”. We face an important national challenge and no one really wants to do the heavy lifting to fix it. We have not faced up to the fact that our national immigration policy has entered crisis mode. We have about eleven million PHI in the United States without whom American farms, poultry and hog processing, construction, hotels and restaurants, and even weekly maid service would have come to a screeching halt. Given that the PHIs include a million and half bright productive young people who came here as children, the scapegoating of immigrants for all the disruptions of globalization and the erosion of the traditional white male dominated social order complicate the discussion.

Let’s forget the fact that most PHI presently in the United States did NOT enter via the Mexican border. And forget the fact that only a minute percentage of drugs, dirty money, and criminal kingpins snuck across the Rio Grande in the dark of night. (Most criminal kingpins prefer to ride into the country in First Class.)  Finally, let’s forget the fact we are already doing a very good job of patrolling that border reducing illegal entries from Mexico by more than half over the last decade. Trump cleverly exploited the fears of about a third of the population by promising he would stop the entry of people who do not look much like and are greatly resented by his core constituency by building a dramatic Wall the length of our southern border.  His supporters chanted “Build the Wall” far more frequently and enthusiastically than any other slogan, even “Lock Her Up!” “End Obamacare” and “Tear up the Iran Nuclear Agreement” never made it into the top ten slogans, but “Build the Wall” gave him the 2016 elections.

Now, Trump has a laser-like focus on his reelection and he has correctly concluded that winning in 2020 demands he keep as many of his election promises as possible to keep his core supporters loyal. “Build the Wall!” could well resonate as effectively in 2020 as “I like Ike” did in 1952 and 1956.  Sadly, the Democrats have also come to the same conclusion: If Trump gets his Wall, Melania gets to stay in the White House (no matter if the ex-PHI First Lady believes it does not measure up to the standards of homes in her native Slovenia). Schumer and Pelosi must be thanking their lucky stars that Trump rejected their offer to him to build the Wall in return for legalizing the “Dreamers”. Fortunately, Trump listened to the rabble-rousers posing as political pundits on Fox News rather than his own instincts and killed the deal. I say sadly, because the Wall debate has degenerated into political sloganeering rather than the rational discussion that would reveal it for the imbecilic idea that it really is. For one example, no one has publically calculated the real cost of land acquisition, construction, future maintenance and the disruption of the environment and commerce. On the other hand, rational discussion does not seem to fit the times.

Constantinos E. Scaros’ rebuttal:

Patrick, my own piece makes the argument for the wall, and so there is no need to rehash it here. And “undocumented aliens” is not as accurate as PHIs, because some of the PHIs are indeed documented; they arrived legally and have remained beyond their allotted time. (It’s all in my book – haven’t you read it yet?)

As I have long written, I question statistics regarding PHIs, because they don’t exactly come out of the woodwork to fill out census surveys explaining how they entered.

Moreover, though you are absolutely right that the wall is Trump’s ticket to reelection, the Democrats realize this and have abandoned their own previous arguments for a wall, just to keep Trump from winning again.

So, let’s ask an outside group – one that arguably knows best: the Border Patrol Agents Union, which for the first time in its history endorsed a presidential candidate in 2016: you guessed it, Donald Trump. The current and former heads of ICE have also strongly endorsed building the wall. As to your point that “rational discussion does not seem to fit the times,” you are right again. A particularly poignant example of that is that a disturbingly large and growing contingent on the left wants to abolish ICE. That some people take these ICE-abolishing advocates seriously is truly frightening.

Finally, I do not agree that if PHIs were to vanish, no one would step up and mow lawns or pick bananas. In fact, considering all of the money we’d save from not funding PHI-generated societal problems, we’d still be way ahead if the price of bananas doubled, or even tripled.

Ambassador Theros’ rebuttal:

Dino is right: the Democrats ARE trying to stop Trump’s “reelection in 2020 by taking away his flagship campaign promise in the hope of thwarting his base’s enthusiasm.” He should have added that the only reason Trump is pushing for the Wall is his need to fulfill his flagship campaign promise in order to get reelected; I doubt he really believes in it. However, this discussion concerns the merits of building the Wall as a cost-effective way of stopping illegal immigration and not Trump’s reelection, and the discussion must include cost. Trump’s DHS estimates it will cost $21.6 billion. OMB, GAO, and even the conservative CATO Institute, all more or less estimate that the Wall would cost no less than $60 billion to build. (As Dino noted, government contractor estimates always lowball.) Add in the current cost of $850,000 per mile annually to maintain the current border fence, multiply that by a further 750 miles of Wall and you add $637 million to the annual budget. Even if Trump got his $60 billion for the Wall, it would take a decade to build; owners of farms and houses on the right of way will fight it out in court. Nor can I find any estimate of land acquisition costs. Realistically, the twenty-year cost of the Wall would add $140 – $160 billion to the budget.

We have all dealt with contractor estimates. That $5,000 estimate to renovate our sunroom (true story) last year cost us $21,000. Trump is a contractor; he is no stranger to “bait ‘n switch.” To repeat, I would be happy to hear a rational discussion balancing the Wall against investing a similar sum in modern law enforcement and border control technologies. That has not happened here. Trump’s supporters have abandoned any pretense of balancing the budget. The rest of us should not.

Though not relevant to the discussion, I completely disagree with the notion that natural-born Americans built the house and the immigrants bought it. Immigrants, including slaves, built this country; the native born inherited it.


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