Construction of a southern border wall intended to combat illegal immigration would fail to stop the majority of immigrants who end up living without legal status in the United States, a new report has found.
Analyzing its own data and data compiled by the Department of Homeland Security, the Center for Migration Studies of New York found that far more immigrants are overstaying temporary visas rather than arriving in the U.S. by illegally crossing the southern border.
The Center’s researchers found that each year, a greater percentage of people in the country without proper documentation arrived legally on valid temporary basis, and a shrinking percentage are those crossed the border illegally. The report states that two-thirds of those who in 2014 joined the unauthorized population were noncitizens who overstayed their authorized visas, raising “questions about the necessity and efficacy of extending the border wall.”
President Donald Trump in late January signed an executive order directing the federal government to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The order, fulfilling one of his most repeated campaign promises, drew widespread criticism among immigration advocacy groups.
The report attributed the shift from border crossings to overstaying visas to a large drop in immigration from Mexico since 2005. Almost all border crossings were made up of migration from just six countries — Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.
Illegal border crossings took the national attention in 2014, when tens of thousands of children and families from Central America, including over 50,000 unaccompanied minors, were apprehended at the southern border fleeing gang violence in their home countries. Even so, in the past decade U.S. Border Patrol arrests have fallen from over a million in 2006 to about 400,000 in 2016, according to the agency.
Critics of the border wall plan have contended that many border crossers are victims of persecution back home and arrived to legally seek asylum in the U.S., and point out that nearly 700 miles of the 2,000 mile border is already barricaded with a patrolled fence. A report by MIT Technology Review estimated the cost of a 2,000-mile wall to be between $27 billion and $40 billion.
The Center on Migration Studies report’s authors suggested instead a re-allocation of immigration enforcement resources.
“Rather than extending the wall, for example, border enforcement resources might be better directed to supporting rule of law and economic development initiatives in the Northern Triangle states of Central America, or to refugee processing in Central America, or to improving the screening of visitors at visa issuing posts,” the authors wrote, adding that these measures would address the issue of visa overstaying and the causes of Central American migration to the U.S.