Is it smart to invest in a wall to solve a problem that doesn’t exist – and would not address potential problems?
“Get the assumptions wrong and nothing else matters” – Peter F. Drucker
President Donald Trump made it very clear last week that his administration intends to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. And he intends to make Mexico pay for it. He is so adamant he is willing to risk U.S./Mexican relations, canceling a meeting with the Mexican president.
Unfortunately, this tempest is all because of a really bad idea. The wall is a bad idea because the assumptions behind this project are entirely false. Like far too many executives, President Trump is building a plan based on bad assumptions rather than obtaining the facts – even if they belie his assumptions – and developing a good solution. Making decisions, and investing, on bad assumptions is simply bad leadership.
The stated claim is Mexico is sending illegal immigrants across the border in droves. These illegal immigrants are Mexican ne’er do wells who are coming to America to live off government subsidies and/or commit criminal activity. The others are coming to steal higher paying jobs from American workers. America will create a huge decrease in the number of illegal aliens by building this wall and keeping Mexicans in Mexico, and there will be a big jump in American employment.
Unfortunately, almost everything in that line of logic is untrue. And thus the purported conclusion will not happen.
1. Although it cannot be proven, analysts believe the majority (possibly vast majority) of illegal immigrants enter America by air. There are two kinds of illegal immigration. President Trump’s rhetoric focuses on “entries without inspection.” But most illegal immigrants actually arrive in America with a visa – and then simply don’t leave. These are called “overstays.” They come from Mexico, India, Canada, Europe, Asia, South America, Africa – all over the world. If you want to identify and reduce illegal immigration, you need to focus on identifying likely overstays and making sure they return. The wall does not address this.
2. Not everyone who speaks Spanish is Mexican. Without a doubt, the vast, vast majority of people who illegally immigrate across the Mexican border are from Central America. They leave harsh conditions in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and other politically unstable nations. They traverse a difficult Mexican landscape – perhaps more than half of them unaccompanied minors – in an effort to find a place to live. In 2014 Mexico captured and deported 150,000 Central Americans, an increase of 44% from the previous year, and they represented 97% of Mexico’s deportations. Human migratory movement is not a Mexican problem, it is a Central American problem.
3. More non-Mexicans than Mexicans were apprehended at the U.S. border – and the the number of Mexicans has been declining. From 1.6 million in 2000, by 2014 the number dwindled to 229,000 (a decline of 85%). If you want to stop illegal border immigrants into the U.S., the best (and least costly) policy would be to cooperate with Mexico to capture these immigrants as they flee Central America and find a solution for either housing them in Mexico or returning them to their country of origin. It is ridiculous to expect Mexico to pay for a wall when it is not Mexico’s citizens creating the purported illegal immigration problem on the border.
4. In 2015 over 43,000 Cubans illegally immigrated to the U.S. – about 20% as many as from Mexico. The cost of a wall is rather dramatically high given the weighted number of illegal immigrants from other countries.
5. The number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. is actually declining. There are more Mexicans returning to live in Mexico than are illegally entering the U.S. Between 2009 and 2014 over 1 million illegal Mexican immigrants willingly returned to Mexico where working conditions had improved and they could be with family. In other words, there were more American jobs created by Mexicans returning to Mexico than “stolen” by new illegal immigrants entering the country. If the administration would like to stop illegal immigration the best way is to help Mexico create more high-paying jobs (say with a trade deal like NAFTA) so they don’t come to America, and those in America simply choose to go to Mexico.
6. Illegal immigrants are not “stealing” more jobs every year. Since 2006, the number of illegal immigrants working in the U.S. has stabilized at about 8 million. All the new job growth over the last decade has gone to legitimate American workers or legal immigrants working with proper papers. Illegal immigration is not the reason some Americans do not have jobs, and blaming illegal immigrants is a ruse for people who simply don’t want to work – or refuse to upgrade their skills to make themselves employable.
7. Illegal immigrants in the U.S. is not a rising group – in fact most illegal immigrants have been in the U.S. for over 10 years. In 2014, over 66% of all illegal immigrants had been in the U.S. for 10 years or more. Only 14% have been in the U.S. for 5 years or less. We don’t have a problem needing to stop new illegal immigrants (the ostensible reason for a wall). Rather, we have a need to reform immigration so all these long-term immigrants already in the workforce can be normalized and make sure they pay the necessary taxes.
8. The states where illegal immigration is growing are not on the Mexican border. The states with rising illegal immigration are Washington, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Massachusetts and Louisiana. Texas, New Mexico and Arizona have seen no significant, measurable increase in illegal immigrants. And California, Nevada, Illinois, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina have seen their illegal immigrant population decline. A border wall does not address the growth of illegal immigrants, as to the extent illegal immigrants are working in the U.S. they are clearly not in the border states.
Good leaders get all the facts. They sift through the facts to determine problems, and develop solutions which address the problem.
Bad leaders jump to conclusions. They base their actions on outdated assumptions. They invest in the wrong places because they think they know everything, rather than making sure they know the situation as it really exists.
America’s “flood of illegal immigrants” problem is wildly overblown. Most illegal immigrants are people from advanced countries, often with an education, who overstay their visa limits. But few Americans seem to think they are a problem.
Most border crossing illegal immigrants today are minors from Central America simply trying to stay alive. They aren’t Mexican criminals, stealing jobs, or creating a crime spree. They are mostly starving.
President Trump has “whipped up” a lot of popular anxiety with his claims about illegal Mexican immigrants and the need to build a border wall. Interestingly, the state with the longest Mexican border is Texas – and of its 38 congressional members (36 in Congress, 2 in the Senate and 25 Republican) not one (not one) supports building the wall. The district with the longest border (800 miles) is represented by Republican Will Hurd, who said “building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border.”
Good leaders do not make decisions on bad assumptions. Good leaders don’t rely on “alternative facts.” Good leaders carefully study, dig deeply to find facts, analyze those facts to determine if there is a problem – and then understand that problem deeply. Only after all that do they invest resources on plans that address problems most effectively for the greatest return.