There’s been no shortage of arguments on border security. Each party has drawn a line in the sand saying we must have a wall, or there should not be a wall. We even had a painful government shutdown for a month over it. Most of the debate is based on opinion, what our gut, friends and family, and the news channel we watch, say. Sometimes you hear a quote claiming to cite statistics, which may not be accurate. It’s no wonder this is such a thorny issue.
So my students and I decided to look into it. Rather than focus on the rhetoric, we looked at the evidence. We looked at a number of cities, either on the border or a large city within driving distance of the border. We wanted to see if border fencing would work or not.
First of all, there were the fence success stories. San Diego, California got a fence near a port of entry during the Clinton Administration. Crime went down after the fence was put up in the 1990s, one of my students found. It’s also remained low as the Fence Act went through, another discovered. Eagle Pass, Texas had a low crime rate before the fence, and it remained low when their fence was built. Douglas, Arizona got a fence in the late 2000s, and crime went down there as well. Though not on the border, Tucson, Arizona also experienced a drop in crime after that border fence was built at the Douglas crossing. Brownsville, Texas has a fence, its crime rate is right about the national average, as well as the Texas average.
Las Cruces, New Mexico is a fair-sized town, not far from the Mexican border. It doesn’t have a wall or fence in the area, and it’s got a very high crime rate (though it declined in 2017). This all sounds like a strong case for a border wall, of course.
But there are also a number of cases where a fence was built, and it had the opposite effect. San Ysidro, California had a border structure built, and the crime rate went up there. It’s the same story with El Paso, Texas. Even though President Trump claimed El Paso was one of the most dangerous cities in America until the wall was built, the facts don’t support that argument (https://www.yahoo.com/gma/el-paso-officials-denounce-trumps-border-comments-ahead-140000613–abc-news-topstories.html). El Paso was not a high crime city, and the wall did not reduce crime. In fact, crime went up after the wall was built.
Moreover, there are also towns which rejected building a wall, and the crime rate stayed low and remained low, as my students found. These cases included Presidio, Texas, as well as McAllen, Texas, Laredo, Texas, Del Rio Texas, and Sunland Park, New Mexico. In fact, McAllen’s crime rate is much lower than Tucson’s, a purported success case. And there’s no evidence that these crimes were all committed by someone here illegally.
So we have seven cases that show that fences generally work or at least don’t make things worse, and seven that show they don’t work or aren’t needed. This is unlikely to please the most die-hard supporters of both parties. But maybe what we should be doing is looking for patterns in what words or doesn’t work, seeing why the fencing isn’t working in some place, and why it works in others. And maybe there are places where building a wall makes no sense, both in small towns and remote areas. These aren’t politically popular arguments, but we have to ask ourselves if we should be scoring political points, or developing the best border security policy.