The Mechanics And Ideology Of “The Wall”

By Bryan D. Griffin

Senior Fellow, London Center for Policy Research

Published JANUARY 23, 2019 in WAMC

All eyes are on the continuing stare-down between Speaker Pelosi and President Trump over the government shutdown.

Trump wants funding for the U.S.-Mexico border wall, and the Democrats know they can’t let him have that win.

Let’s take a breath. A wall is simply a mechanism–one of many possibilities in the toolbox of border enforcement, to ensure a country can maintain its sovereignty and security.

Since the level of crime committed by undocumented immigrants is somewhere above zero (plenty of high-profile cases like Kate Steinle or Ronil Singh stand out in the public’s mind), the United States government has an obligation to address the issue by securing the border from continued illegal crossings. Preventing senseless and avoidable crime is, to me, the most compelling merit of the border wall as a mechanism of border security.

But the wall negotiation has become about more than mechanics; it’s also about ideology. It is within this context that I believe the argument for securing the border has the most merits.

The left says the wall is immoral.

Now, I get the argument about the signal a wall sends, I really do. The walls in apartheid South Africa would certainly fit the bill of being divisive, as they had no purpose other than to separate citizens of the same country by race and class. This is, of course, wrong.

But a border wall serves a distinctly different purpose, and—by the way—one which many other countries around the world have taken advantage of: controlling the flow of non-citizens into a sovereign country.

Agree or disagree that the wall would be effective, what’s more troubling is that the current debate over the wall seems to surround whether or not a country has a right to protect its borders in the first place. There is a current trend of conflating distaste for the wall with a disregard for national borders altogether.

See, the conservative case for the wall is not about separating people. It’s about defending ideas.

Way back in the 1640s, the world’s empires signed an accord called the Peace of Westphalia which, beyond ending years of brutal wars and conflict, paved the road for national self-determination. People eventually became empowered to band together under their own self-formed governments and live by their own rules without needing royal blood or divine decree to do so.

This was a revolutionary concept for humanity.

Nations are more than labels for their citizens. Some nations represent ideas, and some of those ideas are worthy of support by defending the nation that upholds them.

For example, among others, America. America is more than a place, it’s the idea of self-determination. America stands for freedom, equality, and possibility. You can point to flaws in her pursuit, but people from all over the world flock to her borders to live among these very ideals.

Thus, America and the ideals it embodies must be protected. In order to do this, our sovereignty must remain intact. Removing borders from a country removes its ability to form its own identity; and America’s is one worthy of defense for all of the good, just, and yes, even progressive values that our country espouses.

Borders give humanity options, and contrast. Having many different, sovereign countries in the world means that humanity gets multiple attempts at organizing successfully and seeking a moral and just society that reflects the values of a tolerant and compassionate people. Some countries have gotten it very wrong. The world needs other, just countries, to contrast these bad actors, and check their ability to take power over others.

With lawful immigration, those who seek to leave the control of bad actors can and should be able to do so. We need and value immigrants. However, the process must be lawful.

Sovereignty means self determination and an integral part of that means that a country gets to control its own borders. Losing control of a border means losing an essential element of national sovereignty.

The wall is merely a mechanism of preserving a border. We need borders, because humanity needs the ideals that America represents and defends.

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