Human beings have always built border walls to repel unwelcome “others” from their domains, with the clear message “We don't want you here!”
Remnants exist of ancient fortifications like The Great Wall of China and Roman Empire walls, destroyed barriers like the Berlin Wall, and many others. More tellingly are contemporary “active” walls separating people throughout the world (Protestants and Catholics in Belfast, Jews and Palestinians on the West Bank, Indians and Bangladeshis on the subcontinent, and recent European walls to repel migrants).
The United States will soon join the ranks of countries with exclusionary walls: Donald Trump intends to build his ultimate monument alone the 2000 mile border between it and Mexico. His rationale is that undocumented immigrant Mexicans and others are “pouring” over the border, including “murderers, criminals, rapists and terrorists,” causing mayhem here. His dubious selling point is that “It won’t cost us a cent, Mexico will pay for it!
Let’s look at some “real facts”:
1) Fewer Mexicans than in the last two decades are coming into the U.S., and even more are have been returning to their homeland;
2) Arrests of illegal border crossers have dropped precipitously over the last five years;
3) The six million undocumented Mexicans here are mostly long-term residents, members of intact families, gainfully employed, law-abiding members of society;
4) No terrorist acts have been perpetrated by Mexican immigrants (as opposed to native-born citizens).
Illegal immigration is clearly not just an American problem: We've seen disturbing international images of fleeing men, women and children on perilous, often fatal journeys across dangerous terrains and seas, frequently victimized by predatory mercenaries and criminals.
With millions of migrants here from the entire world and coming through porous borders in Europe, we understand the strong feelings aroused. Many people are fearful and angered by the specter of "hordes" of illegal immigrants threatening their way of life, perpetrating violent crimes, overwhelming services and escalating costs to the public.
These fears are fanned by inflammatory warnings uttered by politicians who play to populist insecurities, inspiring fear and loathing. When people are fearful of strangers, they lose sight of facts and objectivity, and they’re susceptible to worst-case scenarios. They might even join demonstrations against the influx of unwanted migrants.
There is no doubt that taking in thousands of migrants presents immense social and fiscal challenges. Governments obviously need stringent safeguards, screening and vetting, and must proceed with considerable caution. The U.S Immigration and Naturalization Service has in fact been doing a remarkable job of protecting us.
We are all descendants of immigrants, either recent or long past. Leaving one’s homeland and being thrust into a new way of life can be daunting; yet still they come, leaving behind abject poverty or violence. They are seeking “a better life” for themselves and their children, the clarion call to the dispossessed and destitute of the world, for whom developed countries have been a magnetic beacon.
There have been both official and spontaneous outpourings of welcome, caring and support, in recognition that oft-bedraggled newcomers become contributing citizens in our communities..
Trump’s proposed wall has been called “futile” and a “flagrant expense.” Of more concern are the primal fears and animosities engendered in altruistic Americans. With the wall, we are sending a message to Mexico, to the world, and to ourselves about America’s fears, selfishness and xenophobia.
This not what America and Americans are about: Immigrants and refugees have made incredible contributions to our society, just like those made by your own forebears (or yourselves). Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty have long been icons of a welcoming America, and in that vein, we need warm hands and bridges rather than rejecting fists and walls.
We can seize the opportunity to reawaken our openness and benevolence. American “can-do” (optimism) and “know-how” (innovation) can enable us to absorb many refugees, who will enhance and enrich our cultural tapestry, as they have always done.
Our generous and idealistic spirits have long made us a model to the world. They remind us of our humanity, and ensure that our country leaves a positive emotional footprint. We should do the right thing for the world and for ourselves.