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“The Great Wall Of China On The Rio Grande”: The Real Costs Of Foolish Plans To ‘Secure’ The Border

Sen. Ted Cruz launched his bid for the Republican presidential nomination this week by promising to “finally, finally, finally secure the borders” and put an end to unauthorized immigration. This will warm the hearts of restrictionists, no doubt. But it should scare Americans who love their pocketbooks and liberties more than they hate undocumented Latino immigrants.

Restrictionists accuse many of these immigrants of being welfare queens who come to America illegally and live off taxpayers. Cruz has contributed to the hysteria by proposing bills barring undocumented workers from ever receiving any means-tested benefits, presumably even after they become legal.

Accusations that undocumented Latinos strain the welfare system are a red herring. If anything, immigrants, legal and illegal, constitute something of a welfare windfall. How? By coming to this country during their peak working years, after another society has borne the cost of raising and educating them, they save our system a ton of money. Studies generally don’t take this windfall effect into account, and still find that the economic contributions of low-skilled Latinos far outpace their welfare use. For example, a Texas comptroller study found that although unauthorized workers consumed about $504 million more in public services than they paid in taxes, without them, the Texas economy would shrink by 2.1 percent, or $17.7 billion. A full accounting of these folks would likely show them to be an even bigger economic boon (especially since the employment participation rate of Latino men is higher than the native born, and their overall welfare use is lower).

Meanwhile, as Cruz and his ilk whine about the (exaggerated) welfare costs of immigrants, they act as if their own plans to erect the Great Wall of China on the Rio Grande would be costless. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Cruz wants to establish “100 percent operational control” of America’s southern border by completing a double-layer fence on the entire 2,000 miles, tripling the size of the border patrol, and quadrupling the number of helicopters and cameras.

This is beyond ill conceived. First of all, 45 percent of all illegal immigrants are visa over-stayers. So Cruz’s efforts are totally irrelevant for nearly half of America’s illegal immigrants. What’s more, even the Berlin Wall, the most fortified border in modern history, was successfully breached 1,000 times every year. That rate will be a gazillion times greater on America’s southern border, which is not a barren, open expanse of land. In fact, it has a varied and rugged terrain with mountains and valleys and national parks (one the size of Rhode Island) and rivers that the wall will have to hop, skip, and jump around.

The Rio Grande has myriad tributaries that feed millions of people on both sides of the border. If Cruz’s wall is anything like the current 18-foot-high structure with rust-red hollow posts sunk six inches apart in a concrete base, it will have to stop several miles short on each side to avoid damming the watershed, leaving major openings for people to walk through.

And what would a double-wall cost taxpayers?

It is very difficult to get a full grip, but the construction cost alone of a single-layer fence on the 1,300 or so unfenced miles would likely be upwards of $6 billion (assuming, as per a CBO study, pedestrian fencing costs of $6.5 million per mile and vehicle fencing costs of $1.7 million per mile). Annual maintenance costs would be hundreds of millions more.

Tripling the number of boots on the ground wouldn’t be cheap either. President Obama has already deployed 20,000 border patrol agents, over twice more than he inherited. Tripling this number would cost a whopping $7 billion or so more a year since, according to the CBO, the annual cost of an agent is about $171,400.

And the bill in dollars pales in comparison to the price Americans will have to pay in lost liberties.

Conservatives are outraged when the government confiscates private property for environmental or other ends. Indeed, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, a vile man with retrograde views on race, became an instant conservative hero when he stood up to Uncle Sam and let his cattle graze on land that the federal government had, in his view, illicitly obtained. Yet Cruz and his ilk have no qualms about authorizing Uncle Sam to perpetrate an even bigger property grab in the name of their Swiss-cheese wall.

Over half of the recently constructed 700 miles of fence was on private property that Uncle Sam deployed blatant strong-arm tactics to obtain. It confiscated ancestral land that had been in families for over 200 years and offered virtually peanuts to Texas landowners who couldn’t afford to hire expensive lawyers to duke it out with Uncle Sam in court. Oscar Ceballos, a part-owner of a small trucking business, recounts how a government lawyer went so far as to figure out how much his assets were worth to dissuade a free legal clinic from representing him in his fight against the government’s ridiculously low-ball initial offer. Cruz’s even grander wall ambitions will only compound such abuse.

Nor would Americans on the border be the only ones affected. The vast majority of undocumented workers are here because there are Americans, especially employers, who benefit from their presence. Hence, Cruz and his fellow anti-immigration fighters want to force all American employers to verify the work eligibility of potential hires — American or foreign, legal or illegal — against a federal database through E-verify. Should this program become mandatory, all Americans will be effectively required to obtain a government permission slip to work.

What’s ironic about Cruz’s crusade to build a wall between two free — and friendly — people, divert billions of taxpayer dollars to militarize the border, and abrogate the civil rights of Americans is that he is doing so while vowing to “stand for liberty.”

If this is his idea of liberty, what would tyranny look like under President Cruz? (Don’t answer that — I hope to never find out!)

 

By: Shikha Dalmia, The Week, March 27, 2015

March 29, 2015 Posted by | Border Security, Immigrants, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“GOP To DHS; Governing Is Hard”: Republicans Are Edging Ever Closer To A Totally Predictable Shutdown

Weeks after winning the Senate, soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had a nice thought:

“We will not be shutting the government down or threatening to default on the federal debt,” he said.

With less than two weeks before yet another government shutdown, chaos remains and dysfunction is still normal.

The latest manufactured drama is over funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which is scheduled to expire on February 27.

The scenario should sound familiar:

Much like the government shutdown over defunding Obamacare, House Republicans are refusing to pass any bill that funds DHS that doesn’t contain a provision overturning the Obama administration’s executive orders on undocumented immigrants and Senate Democrats are refusing to debate any DHS funding bill that has this language.

(Nevermind, the bill would be vetoed the minute it hit the president’s desk. This isn’t about the winning—it’s about the game.)

The result is a partisan stalemate in which neither side will blink.

And once again, this was all by design.

This showdown was set up at the end of 2014 with the debate over “the Cromnibus,” the controversial budget bill that funded the government for most of 2015.

Many conservative Republicans were loath to agree to any measure that funded the government didn’t overturn the executive orders.

Democrats refused to go along with anything other than a bill that funded DHS and omitted the executive order language.

The language would go beyond the controversial executive order that Obama issued in 2014 to allow 5 million undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States and also apply to the “DREAMers,” a subset of illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States while they were underage and have clean criminal records. DREAMers were allowed to stay in the United States in an executive order that the administration issued in 2012.

To avoid another government shutdown, a compromise was reached before lawmakers went home for the holidays.

Most of the federal government would be funded for a year but the DHS would only receive sufficient appropriations to last through the end of February.

The idea was that conservatives could force their standoff on immigration then and surely, no one would want to let the government agency responsible for keeping the United States safe go dark.

But, of course, that is not the case.

To add more futility to their cause, the DHS will keep on running even without being funded. Workers in key agencies like the Border Patrol and the Transportation Safety Administration are considered “essential” and will report to work regardless—they just won’t be paid to do their jobs.

While many other DHS employees could be furloughed, this limitation prevents a shutdown from turning into an immediate crisis and reduces the cost.

On Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner seemed ready to embrace a potential shutdown and unwilling to consider a compromise.

He told Fox News, “The House has acted. We’ve done our job.” Boehner then said, “Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position. It’s up to Senate Democrats to get their act together.”

But it’s not just Senate Democrats who think shutting down the DHS is a bad idea. Senate Republicans—John McCain, Jeff Flake and Mark Kirk, to name a few—also have expressed problems with using the DHS as a way to tweak the president.

The impasse is also handing Senate Democrats a powerful political weapon.

In a statement last week Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid said, “The Republican Congress is a mess, pure and simple. Democrats are happy to help our Republican colleagues resolve their problems but the first step is for Republican leaders to do the right thing and pass a clean bill to fund Homeland Security.”

The political dilemma for Republicans is that while a shutdown plays well with their base, it gives them relatively little leverage.

Most key functions of the DHS will be funded regardless and the result of past GOP brinkmanship is that Republicans are likely to bear the burden of the blame for any shutdown.

It also creates peculiar consequences in the 2016 presidential race as well.

It combines two delicate political issues of immigration reform and a government shutdown into one package and places more moderate GOP hopefuls in a bind.

Do they want to let what Republicans universally believe is an unconstitutional executive order by the Obama administration stand or do they want to be put in a position of cutting funding to the DHS in the aftermath of a wave of Islamist terror attacks against American allies and interests.

The result is a familiar dysfunction.

Democrats won’t yield on Obama’s executive orders—a move that would risk undermining one of the most important actions of the president’s second term and lead to the potential deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants.

Republicans can’t alienate their conservative base yet again by compromising on what has become such a point of principle.

This latest episode might frustrating in the short term but, like the last shutdown, it has a predictable end:

It’s not a question of whether Republicans will cave and fund the DHS, but when.

 

By: Ben Jacobs, The Daily Beast, February 17, 2015

February 19, 2015 Posted by | Dept of Homeland Security, GOP, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The MarcoPhone”: Marco Rubio’s Life Is About To Get Complicated

Marco Rubio has had a pretty charmed political life. He rose quickly through the ranks in the Florida legislature, won a Senate seat without too much trouble at the tender age of 39, then suddenly found himself the “Republican savior” a mere two years after arriving in Washington. At a time when the GOP is desperate to appeal to Latinos, he’s a young, smart, dynamic Latino who could be their presidential nominee in 2016. What could go wrong?

Immigration reform, that’s what. Many elite Republicans feel, and not without reason, that while supporting comprehensive reform might not win them the votes of Latinos, opposing it will pretty much guarantee that those votes will be lost to them. And Rubio almost has no choice but to be one of the leaders, if not the leader, of the party in that effort. He can’t be the Great Latino Hope if he isn’t. Trouble is, lots and lots of rank-and-file Republicans, particularly the kind who vote in presidential primaries, don’t much like reform the way it’s shaping up. Sure, under the “Gang of 8” plan in the Senate it’ll take 13 years for a current undocumented immigrant to become an American citizen. But for many in the party’s base, that’s about 113 years too quick. Enter the MarcoPhone. Wait, what? Get a load of this:

Conservative bloggers immediately seized on portions of the bill funding expanded cell phone access along the border as evidence Rubio was supplying free phones to undocumented immigrants. Some commentators connected it to the “Obama phone,” a popular meme on the right last year about a program that provides discounts on phone service to the poor. Despite the moniker, it predated the current administration by decades and rose to prominence last year mostly due to a viral video of a female black Obama supporter talking about the program.

Rubio himself was confronted with the claim on Wednesday in an interview with conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham, who quoted from a blog post that read “Move over Obama phone, this is the amnesty phone.”

The provision in question doesn’t give phones to undocumented immigrants, it gives phones to people who live on the border so they can call the Border Patrol if they see people crossing from Mexico. But as Ed Kilgore says, “I’m having trouble feeling bad for Rubio getting a taste of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a Tea Party delusion.” It’ll certainly be an interesting test of Rubio’s and his team’s communication skills to see if they can squash this (they’re already trying).

What folks like Ingraham understand is that when you’re trying to gin up outrage about a big, complex piece of legislation, the way to do it is to find some component of the bill that is weighted with symbolic value and will hit directly on your target audience’s resentments and fears. It doesn’t matter how minor the provision is, or how much you need to distort its actual function and intent. All that matters is that it’ll get people pissed off.

“Death panels” was the prototypical example. It told people who feared increased government power and control that the Affordable Care Act would literally give heartless Washington bureaucrats the power to decide who lives and dies. It was not just a lie but an absurd lie, an insane lie. But it worked, at least well enough. Gun advocates who wanted to defeat the Manchin-Toomey background check proposal went around saying it included a “national gun registry,” despite the fact that the bill prohibited the government from ever making such a registry, because they knew that would play on the most paranoid fears of gun nuts who think that any moment the jackbooted AFT thugs are going to come busting down their door to confiscate their AR-15s. The MarcoPhone can function the same way. What does it tell people in the anti-immigrant portion of the GOP base? That a bunch if illegals aren’t just getting amnesty, they’re going to be getting freebies, paid for with your tax dollars!

If it isn’t nipped in the bud, this could be deadly for Rubio. His Tea Party credentials may be impeccable, but if he starts looking soft on the foreign horde to the south, a lot of Republican primary voters will start getting suspicious of him. It’s possible that now that it has been explained to them, people like Ingraham will back off, especially since the guy they’re attacking is one of their own. As long as they still consider him one of their own.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 18, 2013

 

April 19, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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