The Skeptics

Walls Won’t Make America Great. Ever.

It seems clear that Donald Trump is determined to pursue the isolationist policies he promised during the campaign. In his interview with ABC News, President Trump acknowledged that his goal was to erect barriers—both physical and psychological—for those wishing to come to the United States.

The president reaffirmed in a speech at the Department of Homeland Security that his administration would build a border wall, and that Mexico would pay for it, ultimately. (Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto disagrees.)

If Trump succeeds in building even a portion of the border wall, it would be a tangible symbol that the president could point to, be pictured with and stand in front of to entertain the press. He could also surround himself with some of the fifteen thousand additional border-patrol and customs-and-immigration agents that will soon swell the ranks of the federal workforce.

Separately, the president last week issued an executive order that would temporarily ban all refugees coming to the United States from Syria, plus six other predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Surveying terrorist attacks carried out on U.S. soil since 1975, my Cato Institute colleague Alex Nowrasteh concludes that zero Americans have been killed by foreigners from these seven nations. President Trump’s order curiously does not apply to several countries that have produced actual terrorists, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and the UAE.

The president claimed that his actions would “save thousands and thousands of lives.”

But, of course, we won’t ever know the effect these measures will have on public safety. We can’t know how many crimes would have occurred had these policies not been implemented. The president aims to fix that as well, creating a new public-relations office to call attention to crimes committed by foreign-born persons here illegally. This will surely heighten the sense among many Americans that all foreign-born men and women pose an urgent threat.

The facts show otherwise. Based on the number of violent crimes committed by immigrants, we should expect that making it harder for people to come here will have, at best, a negligible impact on the crime rate. The terrorism danger posed by refugees, in particular, is vanishingly small: an American has a 1 in 3.64 billion chance of being killed by a refugee in any given year, according to Cato’s Nowrasteh.

But, barely a week into Donald Trump’s term as president, we have already seen that his administration struggles with the facts, or prefers certain facts that serve their policy preferences over those that do not. In that sense, the Steve Bannons of the world might argue that the mainstream media spends too much time focusing on the mass murders perpetrated by deranged, sadistic, pasty-faced, native-born men, so the Trump administration’s decision to focus on murders committed by foreigners will merely balance the scales.

That there is no compelling reason for these policies on security grounds hasn’t deterred the new administration from pursuing them. They simply want fewer people to come to the United States. In that interview with ABC News, President Trump stated, “It’s going to be very hard to come in. . . . Right now it’s very easy to come in. It’s gonna be very, very hard.”

Anyone who has encountered the current U.S. immigration system would likely quarrel with that latter “easy” claim, but we shouldn’t miss the implications of the former.