Hadrian’s Wall, The Great Wall Of China, The Berlin Wall, And Now Trump’s Mexican Wall: Protection At The Cost Of Isolation

As the agricultural revolution swept across Eurasia some 10,000 years ago, humans developed the first defensive walls to help secure their goods, and prevent invaders from entering their cities. Walls have also been used to enclose regions and mark territory. According to Donald Trump, a wall is still good enough to keep illegal immigrants from coming in from the US-Mexican border and has proposed a 50 foot high, 2,000-mile long wall to stop Mexican immigrants from illegally entering the country. The wall presents a threat to world peace, in terms of the effect it is already having on Mexican and US relations, but also in what it represents for America’s foreign policy as it tends towards a more isolationist outlook.

The wall itself has been a constant cornerstone of Trump’s policy since he announced his run for president for the republican nomination in 2015 and he has constantly been surrounded by controversy. The main argument for the wall’s construction is based on claims that Trump has made against Mexican immigration. In 2015, Trump accused the Mexican government of making the US a “dumping ground” for their unwanted citizens, which in turn creates issues of drugs and crime in the US. He stated that “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Countries do need to secure their borders and they also should be able to create limits on who can and cannot enter across their borders. But, a large wall on the border is no guarantee of this, and when coupled with Trump’s other limits on immigration for those entering the US last week, it is putting the US on a path that strays away from its traditional offer of amnesty to all in a way that has not been seen in a long time.

The wall is quickly creating a rift in Mexican-US relations and may start a possible economic showdown between the two countries. The Trump administration has threatened to tax Mexican imports to cover the cost of building the wall. Responding to this, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has already canceled a meeting with the new president, and the Mexican government and leading business lobbies have also said the country should pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) rather than accept a bad rewrite. A protest group has also been vocal on the boycott of American goods calling for “Consumers to the Shout of War” and they are suggesting that Mexicans use their buying power as a means of protest.

If a trade war is brewing, it will not be fought on a level playing field. Mexico has an economy that is only a tenth of the size of the US, and so import tariffs and the deportation of millions of migrants could push Mexico into a recession. A recession would ultimately create economic instability in the country and economic hardship for its citizens.

Any economic threats would be dangerous as it may threaten peace domestically by leading to social unrest, political instability, and a potential breakdown of democracy in the country. This could lead to civil unrest in the form of peaceful and, possibly, violent protests from the public in the wake of any economic downturn from the wall’s construction. Similar unrest may develop in America where there is a divide between those who are and those who are not in favour of the wall’s construction. Any economic downturn may also, ironically, create more economic refugees seeking access to the US, further increasing the immigration problems that Trump uses in favour of his policy. Furthermore, the tension the wall itself creates between the two countries increases the risks of military force being used, either to coerce Mexico to pay for the wall or by Mexico in order to assert itself against the US, which may lead to possible warfare in the region.

Aside from the direct economic ramifications in the region, the wall also acts a metaphor for the growing isolationism and exclusionism being adopted by America by way of their foreign policy. As Trump has pledged to reduce foreign aid and review current agreements with countries, he has also adopted a position of disengagement from the international system by placing “America First.” Trump’s view on this stems from US over-extending itself in many international matters, which allows other countries to take advantage of this, with immigration being a top priority. Illegal immigration, according to Trump, is not a matter of “a few individuals seeking a better way of life,” but it is a way for foreign governments to “get rid of their worst people without paying any price for their bad behaviour.” It is from this “taking advantage” of US assistance that we get policies, such as the Mexican wall, as well as the ban on immigration from several Muslim countries.

The policies represent a growing trend being seen in governments around the world in response to the Syrian refugee crisis and the perceived threat of terrorist attacks. The shrinking ability for refugees to find asylum creates issues around the world. These people either stay in their home country to become victims of the war tearing their country apart or they become people devoid of a home and forced to travel in appalling conditions in order to find asylum elsewhere. It can also lead to a sense of isolation and protest in those people that may turn them toward radical groups and terrorism. The policies of Trump also set a dangerous precedent for countries around the world in face of rising nationalism and populism. European politicians are beginning to challenge the status quo in their immigration policies in their upcoming elections, such as those in France and Germany. These politicians seek similar controls and bans on immigration in order to increase their own isolation and exclusion. Such developments could lead to increasing restrictions on the movement of people, not only in the US but also Europe.

Critics have also attacked the plans for the wall as being overly ambitious, and being too expensive and large to tackle. There are also problems in using such preventative measures, like a wall, as a means to curb illegal immigration. Trump’s wall may decrease illegal border crossings in the Southern border, but it would not eliminate them. 40% of illegal immigrants in America are due to visa overstays. Funds could be better spent in conducting research on border control methods, such as utilizing biometric entry and exit tracking. Existing immigration rules, such as the catching, detaining, and release of illegal immigrants coming into the country, as well as zero tolerance for criminal aliens, could also be improved with more funding. These would help decrease the number of over-stayers in the country through a more peaceful means of controlling immigration than unduly targeting ethnic groups.

As history has shown, the walls that we raise can create long lasting effects and unintended consequences, which can reshape the world we live in. The Berlin Wall marked the border of the Iron Curtain separating the two worlds of the East and West. More recently, the Israeli Wall along the West Bank has been labeled by some as an illegal land grab and has added to the instability in the Levant region. Likewise, the wall and immigration ban represent the slippery slope of Donald Trump’s Presidency as he pushes his policies towards isolationism and placing “America first,” which may also threaten world peace. The preventative measures target such a small minority of the demographic that it disproportionately affects an overwhelming amount of the immigrants who have done nothing wrong. While a wall may have been successful in the distant past, it is hardly a nuanced position to take on the issue of illegal immigration, and its risk of raising further walls around the world should be heeded.

Hamish Clark