cartel tunnels and illegal immigration,

Why Drug Smuggling and Human Trafficking Will Get Worse with the Border Wall

cartel tunnels and illegal immigration,
A cartel tunnel between Tijuana and a warehouse in California featured an elevator. Getty Images


For the past several years, we have heard about the benefits we, the American people, will reap from a big, multi-billion dollar border wall. As the story goes, it will make us more secure, decrease crime, and keep people from sneaking into our country. But is there any truth to this story? From what we can see, there are major holes in the border wall plan. In fact, the wall may do us much more harm than good.

The Problem: Criminals don’t care about the law.

Many of the people who come into the country without prior approval actually have the legal right to apply for asylum after arrival. They and their children are facing threats of murder, kidnapping, or extreme abuse in their home countries, and – again – they have the legal right to seek our help. These people do not need to be kept out of the country by a wall or by any other means; rather, they need a better process to let them in.

There is no reason to believe that the small minority of criminals who aim to cross the border illegally in order to make money by selling drugs or through human trafficking will be stopped by a wall. Those who make money off of illegal cross-border sales have the resources they need to create other ways of getting into the country. If anything, the border wall obstacle may spur innovation and spark more technologically-savvy systems of evading the wall. Drones and tunnels, for example, are not-too-difficult alternatives that smugglers currently use instead of physically walking or driving over the border. There may be an increase in such alternative routes due to the wall.

This prediction is particularly problematic in light of the fact that the Administration’s border wall proposal will “end funding for efforts to find and destroy border tunnels built by cartels to get under existing barriers. Border security experts have warned that constructing a wall will lead to smugglers trying to dig more tunnels,” according to this AP article.

Plus, early evidence on the impact of the border wall based on existing fencing in San Diego shows that criminal activity has not decreased; in fact, the San Diego border is still the border area with the highest rate of drug smuggling in the nation. The Washington Post just reported yesterday that San Diego’s 15 foot tall border fencing has reduced the rate by which people are crossing the border, but government statistics show that more heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine enter the U.S. through the San Diego border than anywhere else in the U.S. Most drugs come directly through official border crossings. “Smuggling engineers use constantly evolving tactics to hide the contraband in fake vehicle panels, secret compartments or deep inside engine parts. Cartel chemists have learned to liquefy meth to make it look like water. And super-potent fentanyl is so compact that pedestrian couriers can walk it through border gates hidden in clothing, shoes or body cavities. Risk-minded Mexican traffickers view such smuggling methods as far more reliable than sending foot-bound couriers with costly loads through the desert or mountains, where they could get lost, robbed by bandits or captured by U.S. border agents.”

Likewise, contrary to the Administration’s claims, the border wall may actually worsen the problem of human trafficking. According to a study published last year by the research division of the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. border is already more secure than ever, and the cost and difficulty of sneaking in to the United States has increased. As stated before, when money is involved, criminals will generally find a way to sell, even if the barriers are high. But the increased level of difficulty only means the trafficking cartels are likely to charge higher prices for their services. Higher prices feeding the cartels will only help them grow, make them stronger, and give them more incentive to find creative ways of working around obstacles like the wall. Like cockroaches, the cartels will find ways to survive and thrive in  places where non-criminals would not dare to go.

While acknowledging that she doesn’t know for sure if the wall will help deter or increase trafficking, human trafficking expert, Dottie Laster, told NBC news, “The challenges of getting into the United States is a tool traffickers — sometimes called coyotes — use to their advantage.” Laster stated that if the traffickers have trouble getting in to the United States, they could use different paths as leverage over their victims.

In effect, the American taxpayers are going to pay billions of dollars for a project that will likely benefit no one except our enemies, who will see a happy increase in their profit-margin. A more effective approach than building a wall, perhaps, is to learn from both the George W. Bush and Obama Administrations, which acknowledged the American role in smuggling and drug trade problems (with 70% of Mexican cartel guns originating from U.S. smugglers and the American demand for drugs fueling the Mexican supply chain) and sought to collaborate with Mexico in solving these and other border security problems. Simply blaming and punishing Mexico for problems in which both countries play a role is unfair and is likely to reduce Mexico’s cooperation in policing their own borders. It is time to take a wiser, fairer approach to these problems if we want workable solutions that will benefit us over the long-term.