WHY NOT SANCTIONS? Canadian immigrant Charles Krauthammer wants to build a wall across our southern border, rehashing the usual arguments and remarking, "Opponents pretend that these barriers can always be circumvented by, say, tunnels or clandestine entry by sea. Such arguments are transparently unserious. You're hardly going to get 500,000 illegals lining up outside a tunnel or on a pier. Such choke points are exactly how you would turn the current river of illegal immigrants into narrow streams -- which is all we need to turn the illegal immigration problem from out of control to eminently manageable."

This I genuinely don't understand. Obviously, anyone who says a giant wall would have no impact on illegal immigration is being silly. But it's seriously not all that difficult to circumvent a wall either. Unless we want to make it much harder for people to visit the United States, it's going to need to be fairly easy for people to legally enter the country. Once in the country, though, people may stick around by overstaying their visas. Currently, that's not as popular a mode of illegal immigration as is the border-crossing method, but if you keep the demand for immigrant labor the same and clamp down on the southern border, more people will take this route.

Beyond that, obviously, 500,000 people aren't all going to go through the same tunnel, but you can dig more than one. Depending on what kind of wall we're talking about, you may be able to cut the wire or climb over it. And, again, there's no need for a giant boat to transport thousands of people all at once -- small craft could land on random parts of the Gulf Coast or people can sneak in container ships. After all, we do have illegal immigrants from Asia right now. I've mentioned this before, but if you want to know the effect a border wall will have, you need to look up East Germany -- it's ugly: "Mines were buried and watchtowers set up. Dogs patrolled the area and automatic firing devices pointing towards the GDR territory could be triggered by movement. The border guards stationed along the route had orders to stop anyone attempting to escape by shooting them." Maybe I'm wrong, but I genuinely don't think the conservative editorialists of the world really, truly, deeply believe that the penalty for trying to come to the United States and make a living should be on-the-spot execution.

The true oddity of all this is that if you leave wall fetishism aside, there are much more pragmatic immigration enforcement methods available. What you need to do is first make it easy to verify people's immigration/citizenship status. Second, you need to impose extremely harsh financial penalties on people who employ illegal immigrants, such that it's easily worth their while to either pay someone else more money or else live without the help. Third, you give illegally employed people big prizes for turning themselves and their employer in (say, you get deported but you get to take the fine money back home with you) so employers become paranoid about hiring illegals. This would be more effective than a wall, cheaper than a wall, and wouldn't involve killing anybody. If conservatives were in the habit of actually thinking seriously about public policy, we'd have proposals along these lines coming down the pike. Instead we get, "The only thing that might work is a physical barrier."

--Matthew Yglesias

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