In a country still deeply divided over the 2016 election, it comes as no surprise that we’re talking past each other when it comes to border wall funding.

Tempers are running hotter than ever before. We may be canceling the State of the Union for the wall. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a group of congressmen and women may not be going on a trip abroad – including a visit to a conflict zone – because of the wall. And we have been thrust into one of the core issues of the 2020 election campaign because of the wall.

What’s missing from all of this wall talk, though, is the reality of the “border crisis” that President Donald Trump insists is ravaging our nation.


Border crossings by immigrants without visas have occurred for decades, and for a long time, border crossers were treated pretty loosely by a system that knew America was a better landing place for many people from other parts of the world – particularly for our neighbors to the south.

That ended in the post-9/11 world. By 2010, comparatively few immigrants were entering the U.S. without inspection. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama were all enforcement-minded on immigration. President Clinton signed the most draconian immigration laws of the modern era. And President Obama was so tough on immigration that he became known as the “deporter-in-chief.”

Data is a stubborn thing. And today, the government’s own data isn’t working in favor of the Trump administration. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s 2017 Border Security Report, illegal border apprehensions have fallen 90 percent since the year 2000. The border has never been more secure than it is now.

This begs the question of whether we need to spend $5 billion building a wall. Historically speaking, walls have never really kept out “invading hordes.” Our current legal system and procedures are doing an effective job, according to the numbers.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that Trump gets his money. He’ll promptly face tremendous legal barriers to building the border wall.

Trump isn't the first person to try to build a wall. But much of Texas is privately owned, and not all owners want a wall running through their land. There are boundary issues still on the table between the U.S. and Mexico, not to mention indigenous land claims and rights.

President Bush tried to get governmental control of the land when he was in power. Some owners gave in, but others held tight, and they’re unlikely to capitulate now.

In 2009, the Homeland Security inspector general concluded that the Border Patrol had “achieved [its] progress primarily in areas where environmental and real estate issues did not cause significant delay.” There is no fast way to move the wall construction along; border land has been in stasis for the past decade.

What’s more, the wall would, in theory, only be as strong as its weakest link.

A wall is, by its very nature, something that people can go over, under and through, depending on how well it's kept up and guarded. In fact, escaping through and over walls is one of the great movie tropes of all time. All you need is a ladder, a shovel, a terrible storm, a break in the guard duty, and you are free to go. It’s happened for centuries in real life too. Remember the Berlin Wall? The Great Wall of China? Jericho?

All this is to say that current immigration laws work to keep our country safe. Let’s spend the money extending those.

The figures are clear. The numbers of illegal immigrants entering the country have dropped significantly in the last 10 years while the numbers of those overstaying their visas have risen. However, overstays only represented about 1 percent of those who lawfully travelled to the United States in 2017.

It's not our borders that are the problem. They are statistically more secure than they have ever been.

Congress set aside $1.2 billion for the 700-mile border fence that was constructed in 2006. It ended up spending $3.5 billion for construction of the current combination of pedestrian fences and vehicle impediments. This fence line was far smaller than the one being considered today.


Imagine if instead we spent a fraction of that money extending and improving our immigration laws and processes?

This wall isn’t the answer. Reform is. This country has been waiting for comprehensive immigration reform that benefits both parties’ positions for more than two decades. Now's a good time to finally do it.

Harlan York is an immigration attorney and author of the book "Three Degrees of Law." Follow him on Twitter @HYORKLAW