It is impossible
There is no way to completely close the border between Mexico and the United States.
It’s 1,951 miles long, including 741 miles with some sort of barrier – 636 to block pedestrians and 105 to block vehicles. And to build a wall on the 1,210 miles currently unprotected would be a very costly and useless task.
I have seen migrants jump the wall in less than one minute. I filmed them with my cell phone, and you can see the video on my Instagram page. Millions arrived by plane, and stayed after their visas expired. And millions more have arrived by land in the last three years, from the poorest and most dangerous places in Latin America.
Barbed wire will not stop them.
If you had seen them crossing the Rio Grande/Bravo – like I saw them recently in Eagle Pass – you would understand that nothing will stop a 60-year-old woman who walked on crutches from Caracas in Venezuela to Texas. Or the families from Ecuador, Peru and Colombia who arrive carrying children on their shoulders. Or the young people fleeing gangs and unemployment in Central America. Or the Cubans and Nicaraguans escaping the brutal dictatorships of Miguel Díaz-Cane and Daniel Ortega. Or the Mexicans who can no longer live with the violence and cartel extortions in their country. Or the sick, threatened and hopeless who see in the United States an opportunity for a new life and the possibility of reinventing themselves.
I came to the United States for the same reasons four decades ago, and I would not dare to turn my back on those arriving after me. On the contrary. We must understand and help them.
It is true. We have never seen so many migrants crossing the border illegally. More than 6 million undocumented migrants since Joe Biden entered the White House, according to the Border Patrol. That’s 1.7 million in 2021, 2.3 million in 2022 and 2.4 million in 2023. But we have to understand that this is the new normal. And adapt.
“Today, more people than ever live in a country other than the one they were born,” said a United Nations report in 2020. Almost four out of every 100 people around the world are migrants. And the number has been rising at least since 1980, pushed up by reasons that range from climate change and wars to the rise of violence and economic inequalities in their home countries.
The pandemic, for medical reasons, stopped the massive movement of migrants. And it hit Latin American economies hard. But as soon as the vaccines came out and flights resumed, migration from the poorer countries to the richer countries shot up. That’s what we’re seeing now.
At the same time, the US economy recovered rapidly from the pandemic and became a magnet for new migrants. It not only absorbed the 6 million foreigners who arrived over the past three years but it continued to grow. In January for example, 353,000 new jobs were created and unemployment stayed at an ultra-low 3.7 percent. And as soon as many of those migrants can work legally and pay taxes, the impact will be much bigger.
Regardless of all that, the situation is difficult. I understand that cities like New York, Chicago and Denver are overwhelmed with the endless arrivals of new migrants. Everyone has been surprised by this last wave of migrants. But the Statue of Liberty tells us what to do: register them, support them, house them and then give them their first opportunity to move forward, with work permits and licenses. Nothing is gained by deporting thousands or temporarily crossing the border. That would only create a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions in northern Mexico.
Conclusion: Migrants, in the long run, are good for the United States.
That’s why it breaks my heart to hear President Joe Biden asking Congress to give him the power to “close the border.” I never expected that one day Biden would use the same language as Donald Trump. Closing the border is a mistaken concept that assumes there’s an invasion – when there is no country invading – and unjustly penalizes migrants. And what happened to the Democratic Party’s promise to legalize millions of undocumented migrants who have been living in this country for years? I don’t see that anywhere.
Since the border with Mexico cannot be closed, what can be done? U.S. laws are very clear. Any person can apply for asylum if he or she has a “credible fear of persecution” based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in certain groups.
What is first needed, therefore, is to recognize that the world has changed, that there are more migrants than ever and that the United States has the moral and historical responsibility to accept more foreigners. And second, to modernize, expand and make more efficient the archaic US process for receiving foreigners. The current system is broken, and there are not enough officials or judges to process all the migrants seeking asylum.
To modernize and prepare. That’s the road to change. Not more walls and border closings.
To close the border with Mexico is an absurd, useless and populist idea, and it will not fix the current migration crisis. The key question is whether the United States wants to continue being a country of immigrants. Now is the time to show it.