Why is a border wall such a polarising issue in American politics?



I don't understand why this is such a big deal. Many countries around the world have a hard border with a physical barrier in place to stop illegal crossing/smuggling. It doesn't seem inherently unreasonable that the US has one as well, especially given the border with Mexico is well known for illegal crossing and drug smuggling.

Why is this seemingly normal function of government seen as such a contentious issue that it's worth shutting down the government for, and what do the Democrats have to gain politically from the continued illegal activity on the border? Surely Democrats are equally affected by the criminal behaviour as well(?).

They could make a deal and get something that would make a real material difference to the electorate, and I don't see why they're going to the mat for this.


Posted 2019-01-11T21:18:03.000

Reputation: 2 296

6Comments deleted. Comments should be used to provide constructive criticism to the question or to add relevant meta-information. They are not for answering the question or for debating the subject matter of the question. – Philipp – 2019-01-13T00:35:55.790

1Is this question is about American politicians or Americans? Some of the phrasing seems to suggest politicians. – user2617804 – 2019-01-13T09:52:16.047

2Comments removed. Please do not attempt to answer the question in comments. If you feel you can answer the question, do it properly. – yannis – 2019-01-13T16:39:11.277

40Many countries have a hard border? I think you need to provide some examples, I know only of china's wall. - And the romanian border. However they're all criticesed, with the US in the past being the strongest opponent of a wall splitting countries (berlin wall, famous "ich bin ein berliner" speech was against the idea of building walls). – paul23 – 2019-01-14T17:21:23.320


@paul23 I thought so as well, but it turns out border barriers aren't that uncommon. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Border_barrier#List_of_current_barriers.

– yannis – 2019-01-14T21:02:04.510


@yannis That list contains less than 40 barriers for a grand total of 20,000 km (about 12,000 miles). There are a little less than 200 counties in the world. Based on this there are something like nearly 450 unique land borders and roughly 250,000 km of land borders. Maybe not completely uncommon, but definitely a small proportion. Most of those barriers are small. Like a few hours of biking length.

– JimmyJames – 2019-01-14T22:00:40.960

28While a question about why the Wall is such a polarizing issue in the US is entirely valid, this Question contains a lot of pointed rhetoric, rather than asking the question in a neutral manner. It contains talking points about the walls being normal (they are in fact uncommon) and stating that a wall is a normal function of the government (which is not established). The question currently conveys a sense of trying to push towards a particular answer, that the US is wrong to make the Wall a contentious issue. Questions should be asked as neutrally as possible. – trlkly – 2019-01-15T10:32:32.107

2“what do the Democrats have to gain politically from the continued illegal activity on the border” Could you please clarify why you are assuming A) the wall is opposed by all (and only by) Democrats B) that this is because they have something "to gain politically from the continued illegal activity on the border" [citation needed]? Thank you. – Andrea Lazzarotto – 2019-01-15T22:24:33.850

The phrase "they're going to the mat for this" seems needlessly biased. It would be more correct to say that both sides are "going to the mat". – agc – 2019-02-18T14:53:31.353



The border wall is polarizing because Donald Trump wants it, and Donald Trump is a polarizing figure.

This is a cynical answer, but I think it’s actually more accurate than the other answers, which attempt to discuss the relative merit of the border wall as a policy. The thing is, the merit of a border wall as a policy has been whatever it has been for many years, but widespread opposition to the border wall has only started since Donald Trump started talking about it.

This article shows that a number of polls going back to 2006 (when a border fence was originally authorized by Congress) showed broad support for a barrier, until Donald Trump entered the Presidential race: https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/americans-used-support-border-wall-what-changed-their-minds


Posted 2019-01-11T21:18:03.000

Reputation: 12 229

5Also perfectly explains why Obamacare was so controversial back in the day: Obama wanted it, so Republicans were against it. Few people actually had specific issues with the program. – JonathanReez – 2019-02-18T18:39:24.810

1@JonathanReez I’m not so sure, because at least there had been prior policy discussions about various other healthcare schemes and polling of them showed that the country was divided on them before the ACA was proposed. However, there are definitely other examples of this dynamic one could find that involve Obama or George W. Bush (who were both polarizing Presidents not named Trump). Pretty much any form of questionably-constitutional executive power now seems to suffer this sort of treatment. Also, attitudes toward Putin’s Russia (all three attempted some rapprochement early in their terms) – Joe – 2019-02-18T19:06:11.063

4@JonathanReez - As for Obamacare, no, the Republicans had rejected the idea of government-sponsored or single-payer health care for a long time before Obamacare was proposed. Also, Obamacare affects the health and taxes of US citizens. A border wall does not, at least not directly or nearly as much. – David R Tribble – 2019-02-19T17:20:29.470

3@Joe - Correct. Most Democrats are on record as opposing illegal immigration and supporting a border wall long before Trump made it one of his key campaign issues (even going back to Reagan's Amnesty in the 1980s). – David R Tribble – 2019-02-19T17:21:44.067

See also https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/12/13/trump-a-setback-for-trumpism/

– Jared Smith – 2019-02-20T14:41:45.167

1@DavidRTribble Maybe many republicans had, but things like the Healthy Americans Act suggest that not all of them felt that way. It was much more a real single-payer plan than Obamacare, and had numerous Republican co-sponsors, including even Committee Head Grassley (the same guy who later said Obamacare would "pull the plug on Grandma"). Notably, that was in 2007. When it was reintroduced in 2009 after Obama took office, two thirds of the Republicans who backed it in 2007 no longer did so. – Geobits – 2019-03-01T20:18:42.887


tl;dr: The wall is only an idea with lots of blanks. People on different sides of the divide fill in the blanks differently, so they end up with different conclusions.

The Wall is just an abstract concept. A concrete project to build The Wall, a plan for how it would look, an estimate what it would cost, where exactly it would be located, or a clear objective that it would achieve, is not part of the discussion.

And it gets worse: The problem The Wall is supposed to solve has not been clearly and fully defined. At this point in time, none of the involved politicians have enumerated the actual real life problems The Wall is supposed to solve, let alone explained how The Wall does so better than alternative options.

So how come people on different sides fill in the blanks differently? There are plenty of strong assertions around the weakly defined The Wall project. These assertions usually carry along plenty of untrue implied statements. Let's give an example: OP's words "Many countries around the world have a hard border with a physical barrier in place to stop illegal crossing/smuggling" imply

  1. Continuous walls between countries are perfectly normal
  2. The Wall can and will stop or significantly reduce smuggling
  3. The Wall can and will stop or significantly reduce illegal immigration

OP's words are true - if we assume "many" to mean "more than 2" - but all 3 implied statements are clearly false.* The comments provide anecdotal evidence that despite being obviously false, people do fall for these implied claims. While there are untrue or unproven implicit statements in circulation on both sides, I chose these particular claims because they are part of the original question I'm answering, and because they seem to be popular enough that I subjectively classify them as notable.

The divide over the idea of The Wall is magnified due to the unfortunate fact that in the US there is a very peculiar situation where one of the major news networks specializes in the deliberate spread of false and misleading information.

All in all, The Wall is an abstract concept that promises a simple solution to an oversimplified problem, and the question of how 'The Wall' would solve real world problems hasn't been answered yet.

*Disclaimer: The below shows, on request, why the 3 implied falsehoods are such. It is not strictly relevant to, or part of, this answer, but it will satisfy some people's curiosity.

1) Continuous walls between countries are perfectly normal - false Only a tiny fraction of worldwide borders have walls, while the overwhelming majority or borders do not have man made barriers. If you follow the link, you'll notice that even among the small fraction of borders that have man made barriers, the majority of these are related to past, present, and/or probable future armed conflict, such as Ukraine-Russia, Korea-Korea, Saudi Arabia-Jemen, India-Pakistan, Syria-Turkey, etc.

2) Trump's wall can and will stop or significantly reduce smuggling - false A majority of drugs cross the US-Mexican border through ports of entry, therefore a new wall is entirely unable to affect a majority of smuggling. In addition, smugglers already use methods that do physically defeat current walls and will also defeat any new wall (catapults, planes/drones, tunnels).

3) Trump's wall can and will stop or significantly reduce illegal immigration - false In the public discourse "illegal immigrants" (incorrectly) refers to 3 kinds of people**: Visa overstays (who make up 40%-60% of undocumented immigrants entering the US), asylum seekers, and people who try to cross the border undetected. Visa overstays are entirely unaffected by a wall. Asylum seekers can easily surrender themselves in any place where the wall has to move a few feet away from the border for physical reasons, without having to cross a wall. Asylum seekers can alternatively also surrender themselves at a border checkpoint. The last category - people who try to cross the border undetected - will be affected by a wall. These people already need tools/vehicles and often hire experienced guides to cross the border - a wall will force these guides to find ways to circumvent it (ladders, ropes, blankets).

In addition to the above, the symbolism of The Wall plays strongly into a pre-existing political divide, as outlined in Michael Kay's answer.


Posted 2019-01-11T21:18:03.000

Reputation: 10 314


"Until recently a wall was seen to be only a talking point, rather than a serious solution to address the underlying problem"; This is not correct. Discussions of a physical barrier along the US/Mexico border go all the way back to at least the 1980s. Long sections of fencing were constructed in the 1990s, and Congress even passed the Secure Fence Act in 2006. The only thing that's changed is that the word "wall" is now being used to describe it.

– Wes Sayeed – 2019-01-12T00:28:19.200

31@WesSayeed along sections of the border, not along the entire border which parts of it are owned by parities that have treaties with the government saying that they have control of it instead of the government. – Joe W – 2019-01-12T00:46:16.407

9When you say "OPs words are true, yet they carry with them 3 implied statements, of which not a single one is true." you should add some sources proving that they are not true. – Graipher – 2019-01-12T07:54:49.107


@Peter: To the methods of drug smuggling which render the Wall irrelevant you could add airplanes, cargo ships, purpose-build submarines https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narco-submarine and for all I know, drones. Of course most of those could be used for humans, too. And of course there's the great extent to which US drug prohibition has, by causing the growth of cartels &c, encouraged many Latin Americans to come to the US as an escape.

– jamesqf – 2019-01-12T19:59:32.990


@jamesqf those are not profitable for most human trafficking. They work for drugs because that can be sold very lucratively in the US. Human trafficking works on the principle than many people pay a relatively small amount of money. A rich person may be willing to pay something in the tens of thousands$. That works out to less than a grand per kilogram of 'goods'. A kilogram of cocaine goes for 50K wholesale. And cocaine requires much less attention (drinking, feeding, etc.)

– JJJ – 2019-01-12T20:10:40.783


re: "Until recently, a continuous physical barrier along the entire USA-Mexico border was not widely discussed as a realistic solution to an actual problem at the border." This is not true. In fact, it was so widely discussed from time to time that the memes about it existed in the popular culture. George Lopez not only made a popular joke about it (a la "if you deport all the Mexicans, then who is gonna build it?"), but he was also accused of stealing the joke as far back as 2010 (https://lasvegassun.com/vegasdeluxe/2010/jun/24/accusations-joke-theft-not-laughing-matter-carlos-/).

– grovkin – 2019-01-13T03:39:49.567

Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

– yannis – 2019-01-14T14:58:52.817

1@JJJ: You'll note that I did say those were methods of drug smuggling. People do use ships to illegally immigrate from Africa to Europe (and historically from Cuba & Haiti to the US) so that's certainly possible. And many illegals did come by plane, overstaying tourist or student visas, &c. – jamesqf – 2019-01-14T19:28:36.840

3"(catapults, smuggling through ports of entry, planes/drones, tunnels)" You forgot boats and submarines. There's is a huge ocean, sorry, two oceans that touch both Mexico and the US. – JimmyJames – 2019-01-14T21:12:37.207

2This answer makes a very strong claim without context, source, or relevance to the answer in proper context. This claim "... one of the major news networks specializes in the intentional spread of such false and misleading information ..." requires context or citation to apply to the answer without it being essentially propaganda in the answer. Additionally, the first paragraph is false. It may not have a lot to it, but having 1 clearly defined reason is enough to make the answer false. That reason, the DHS provided, is that it will help them do their job in mitigating illegal immigration. – David S – 2019-01-14T21:22:41.233

Your answer reminds me of this opinion piece about the symbolism: https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/12/border-wall-immigration-debate-political-symbol/

– rrauenza – 2019-01-14T23:13:52.527

2That there exist means of smuggling drugs and immigrating illegally that wouldn't be deterred by walls does not imply that a wall would not significantly reduce instances of those events. – Bridgeburners – 2019-01-15T14:15:08.717

"... one of the major news networks specializes in the intentional spread of such false and misleading information" - This should be changed to "... all of the major new networks...". Also - "And both sides - one much more so than the other - play around the issue" is clearly biased by the "one much more so than the other". That phrasing should be removed. Otherwise I agree with the answer. – That1Guy – 2019-01-15T19:41:19.250

You own link claims that 42% of the illegal immigrants are visa overstays. Why would the fact that a wall would not solve 42% of the problem be an argument against the wall? – grovkin – 2019-01-16T15:05:17.523

@grovkin It isn't. I didn't mention a single argument for or against the wall in this answer. – Peter – 2019-01-16T15:11:42.447

Would you mind adding the 42% number to the answer then? That particular point (point 3) seems to be against efficacy of a wall until one actually follows the link and reads it. – grovkin – 2019-01-16T15:21:09.293

1@grovkin While the number 42 is the answer to the question, I don't see how it's relevant to the question discussed here (sorry, I had to do this). The words after 3) are indeed intended to dismantle a false implied statement by the OP that's related to the "efficacy" in regards to a very specific metric. It isn't, however, an argument against the wall, because "to stop or significantly reduce illegal immigration" has never so far been given as the official goal of the wall - presumably because that would be trivial to counter with facts. – Peter – 2019-01-16T16:01:02.647

If it is indeed the case that "to stop or significantly reduce illegal immigration" has never, so far, been given as the goal of the wall, then you are burying the lead. – grovkin – 2019-01-16T16:05:28.117

So the question is: where can one get actual facts and data sufficient and comprehensive enough to be able to form a real, nuanced opinion on this topic? Or better, what should one be looking for, or what does one need to know to find out? – The_Sympathizer – 2019-01-17T04:24:26.800

@The_Sympathizer Unfortunately, the answer is to look at a lot of sources, and question all of them. Is the Wall about Racism? Define "the wall", define "is about", define "racism". Will the wall help secure the border? Define "the wall", define "secure the border". Are democrats against the wall? Define "democrats", define "the wall". Depending on the exact definitions there are multiple correct but contradictory answers to each of these questions. – Peter – 2019-01-17T15:05:59.790


One thing you didn't mention is the corruption involved in Trump's wall. The steel used to make it will be supplied by a company owned by a Russian oligarch: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-25/under-trump-made-in-america-is-losing-out-to-russian-steel

– Tanath – 2019-01-19T15:23:01.950

The body of this answer is pretty good, but the summary doesn't ring true to me. The different conclusions people come to are not solely or even primarily the result of "filling in the blanks" differently, but rather of different political stances and personal prioritization of policy goals. For some people, the wall sends a horrible message to the world and is a waste of money (even if the money were not to be spent elsewhere, it could be used more efficiently to enforce border security). For others, illegal border crossings should be fought vigorously and visibly, and the wall does that. – phoog – 2019-02-17T21:17:30.043

@WesSayeed there are videos all over the internet of many farmers with property on the border being interviewed saying that they would gladly give up a small strip of their land for a wall and are willing to provide a 'right of way' for ICE to patrol in the hopes of cutting down on the illegal alien crossings on their land. This is a huge problem for many of them. – Aporter – 2019-03-05T12:06:56.773

@Bridgeburners correct. There are instances in certain types of car accidents where, wearing a seat belt will get you killed. The estimate I 'heard was around 20% of the time. Does this mean that you just stop putting seat belts in vehicles? The wall cannot stop everyone, but if it deters 80% from trying is it worth it? – Aporter – 2019-03-05T12:15:15.580

The map of man-made border barriers given in this answer is completely inacurrate. There are many, many more such barriers. For example, take a look at the EU's external border, or the borders of China: Poland-Ukraine, China-Kyrgyzstan, Latvia-Russia. And these are just a few examples.

– michau – 2019-05-01T11:27:46.377


From your comment under the question:

You don't shut down the government over a disagreement about the cost benefit analysis of something that costs 5 billion dollars. There is obviously some deeply political/philosophical objection to the wall.

I think your comment is to the point. There is a philosophical objection. Mainly, the current administration has planned to put millions off of health care yet they plan to spend billions (5.7B$ now, but how long until more is needed?) on a wall.

Now look at that from the Democrats perspective. They can let it happen and be seen as enabling Trump. On the other hand, as they do now, they can take a stand. Obviously, taking a stand is not without disadvantages: the shutdown has many disadvantages for the public, especially public servants.

Either Trump gives in and the Democrats have a moral victory or the shutdown carries on and the pressure (on everyone) grows. Eventually, someone will give in (or new elections happen) and the electorate will choose a side.


Posted 2019-01-11T21:18:03.000

Reputation: 26 015

22I'm just looking for the answer that says that comment, +1. "seemingly normal function of government seen as such a contentious issue" because the 'leader of the free world' made it one. Why? Don't ask us why one guy did something. Especially that guy. – Mazura – 2019-01-12T21:26:51.547

27re the 5 billion part. Estimates for a full complete wall go up to 200 billion not to mention the maintenance which can that again every 10 years. – mag – 2019-01-14T10:17:52.867

2That's the problem democrats (or any sane individual) have with giving carte blanche to build a wall. That's like signing a blank check from your child's tuition fund and handing it to a stranger. – Mazura – 2019-01-15T23:47:42.950

@Mazura Congress seems to have "carte blanche" to waste billions for literally everything else. How about the $50 billion that goes to foreign aid every single year? Did you support that? I didn't. How about the $770 billion on so-called defense, to man over 800 military bases in 170 countries. Did you support that? I didn't. $5 billion is a drop in the bucket & the shut down actually cost us $11 billion. This fight isn't about money. We pay more than $5 billion in interest per week on the national debt. – Aporter – 2019-02-21T04:43:16.010


It's a polarising issue because it symbolises hostility towards foreigners, which is intrinsically an emotive subject.

If you actually want to reduce illegal immigration in the most cost-effective way possible, then other methods (e.g. more careful vetting at ports and airports) probably work better; but the wall sends a visible message "not wanted here".

It thus draws out a division between people who think foreigners should be treated with as much respect and dignity as possible, and those who regard them as an intrinsic threat to the American nation.

Europe has also been building physical barriers against would-be migrants. This hasn't attracted the same level of controversy, mainly because the democratic process in Europe works rather differently.

Michael Kay

Posted 2019-01-11T21:18:03.000

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– Sam I am says Reinstate Monica – 2019-01-16T18:55:27.513

I'm not going to excuse those EU barriers, but the majority of them are probably inferior in technical terms (and cost per unit of length) to what Trump plans. – Fizz – 2019-09-05T13:51:34.260


The problem with this wall proposal is that we already have a wall. It was built in the 1990s under President Clinton, and expanded under every President since. And the existing wall looks every bit like the Berlin/East Germany wall in sections, complete with double fencing and dog runs. Had then-candidate Trump proposed expanding this wall, it probably would have been uncontroversial. It also would have been much cheaper, but given his personality and his previous remark about "rapists. And a few good people" admitting that we already have a wall wouldn't have been very successful as a campaign promise.

As an aside, Clinton's wall actually backfired. Before the wall was built, Mexican workers usually tended to come only for a few weeks for harvest season, and then return home.

The wall made the trip much more expensive and difficult. The hope was that this would deter Mexicans (and people from points further south) from crossing into the US. Instead, it deterred them from leaving after harvest season. What used to be undocument non-immigrant workers became year-round undocumented immigrants, who then started bringing wives and children.

That fact is not very well known, though, so it's not likely a factor in why Trump's wall proposal is so polarizing.

Kevin Keane

Posted 2019-01-11T21:18:03.000

Reputation: 887

4Your answer is insightful, but I don't think it actually answers the question "why is the wall a divisive topic". I do think what you have could be taken in several directions to answer that part as well, and would be interested in reading that expanded answer. – Peter – 2019-01-14T11:42:12.780

The part that I meant to directly answer the question was from "had he proposed expanding the wall it would have been uncontroversial" to "rapists. And a few good people", and the reference to the campaign promise. You are right, the rest of it is elaboration to provide context and background (and thanks for calling it insightful!) – Kevin Keane – 2019-01-15T00:33:27.623

2Re "workers usually tended to come only for a few weeks for harvest season", harvest tends to be a moveable affair. It might start with winter/early spring havest of strawberries & vegetables in California's Imperial Valley (or even in Mexico), and finish in the fall with apples, peaches, &c in Washington state (or even into Canada). Which is why the workers are MIGRANT workers. Would seem far better (since most Americans won't do this work) to simply make such workers legal. – jamesqf – 2019-01-15T20:05:00.847

1@jamesqf Keep in mind that this was 30 years ago, so making such workers legal today wouldn't change anything. That said, there are visas available for this work, but the quota is very low, and the red tape makes it difficult to use (which farmer knows a year in advance what the weather will be at harvest time?). There also was the braceros program in the 1950s and 1960s, which was also plagued by its own set of problems. That is probably one factor why people in the 1980s perceived migrant harvest workers as a problem. – Kevin Keane – 2019-01-16T21:12:36.617

2"That fact is not very well known, though" Indeed, and this answer really needs some citations. – TylerH – 2019-01-17T16:27:51.813

Re "it's not likely a factor": a fact needn't be known to affect things, (q.v. the entire history of medicine), perhaps year-round undocumented immigrants inadvertently excite xenophobic organization by exceeding some sort of paranoical tipping point of exposure time. – agc – 2019-02-18T15:17:42.963


Here's a sampling of the arguments I've heard from people opposed to the wall. Often from people who live near the border:

  1. Walls and fences are of little value if they are not guarded. Many areas of the border have no telecommunications and are difficult to reach. Example
  2. Tunnels can go under walls.
  3. Most illegal immigrants and drugs come into the country through other means.
  4. In some areas of the border, people have ranches and other property. You first have to take their land through eminent domain and then block their access to the river. Example
  5. When heavy rains hit an area, they run to the nearest river. If you got a wall there, where's the water going? A fence might work better in such areas but debris will collect on it and cause flooding unless it is cleared. Example
  6. Wild life does not respect borders. A wall and even a fence will create ecological consequences that are hard to predict. Example
  7. Native tribes occupy lands that span the border (this is true in the north too) and a wall would divide them. Example

Much of the opposition to the wall is due to the belief that it will be costly and ineffective while creating problems. They disagree that it will be a "real material difference to the electorate", at least in the implied positive way you put it. In a nutshell they don't agree with wasting money on something they see at best as being mostly pointless and at worst highly problematic.


Posted 2019-01-11T21:18:03.000

Reputation: 1 005

9While I agree these are all practical and factual arguments against a border wall, and +1 for bringing them up, I don't agree this is the reason it's so polarizing. The US is not having a practical and factual debate right now. The wall is an emotional proxy for hopes and fears about immigration. – Schwern – 2019-01-15T21:49:01.453

@JimmyJames the major point people are missing is that a barrier is the only way to prevent people from physically crossing the border. Once they cross even if caught due to surveillance or being spotted by border agents, it creates a huge expense. Once they cross they are entitled to due process. Which costs $. They are "entitled" to room and board while being detained. Which costs $. I don't remember even a rough number of people who are detained awaiting their due process right now, but it's a large #. – Aporter – 2019-03-05T12:30:50.833

@Aporter But a barrier doesn't prevent people from crossing. Walls can be scaled, tunnels dug. You still need border guards. And if they can't prevent someone from crossing on foot, why can they stop someone from climbing or digging? Technically, once on the wall, they would be in the US anyway. Also this proposed barrier will cost many many $. Way more than what Trump claims. His is a ridiculous lowball estimate. – JimmyJames – 2019-03-05T14:58:23.630


I'm not trying to go full PoMo here, but meaning is often socially constructed.

Anything can be politically polarizing if a critical mass of people perceive it to be that way. We could be talking about a waist-high barrier in someone's back yard if such a thing came to national attention and had some sort of symbolic weight.

Think about some issues that are political issues (at least in the US) that shouldn't be: climate change (~97% of experts are worried about this), voter fraud (almost never happens), etc. But as I've said elsewhere on this site, these things aren't just subjects for discussion but membership cards, marking people as one of us/those people we hate.

We cannot have real conversations anymore about these topics. They have been hijacked to denote tribal affiliation. Attempting to make any sort of argument on the object-level question will end in disaster. Indeed, based on the comments and downvotes, merely citing an example pointing this out has been a disaster.

The case of climate change is particularly instructive: I've repeatedly had the following conversation and it goes the same way every time:

Other Person: "I don't see why anyone would doubt the scientific consensus on climate change"

Me: "Are you a climate scientist? Hang out with any? Read any peer-reviewed literature on the topic over the last 20 years? Even just the abstract of a single paper from the last 20 years? How do you know what the scientific consensus is?"

Other Person: "You're obviously one of those science-denying Fox-watching troglodytes."

Every. Single. Time.

Now certainly, some people do in fact understand that such really is the scientific consensus. But, and this is germane to my point, most people won't even do a single google-search's level of due diligence.

The real problem is that I'm addressing the statement at the object level. What the other person is actually saying is "I'm a card-carrying member of the Republican-haters club" and when I say what I say they translate it to "I'm a Republican, come at me bro".

Illegal immigration faces the same slogan-chanting-zombie-ism: the wall is just the rallying point for opposing forces. It could have been anything. I'd have preferred they picked something that didn't cost $5 billion, but that's another topic.

Jared Smith

Posted 2019-01-11T21:18:03.000

Reputation: 7 181

7This doesn't quite explain why this particular issue turned out so polarising. As you say, anything can become polarising but not everything does (to this extent). So why this issue? – JJJ – 2019-01-13T01:10:39.453

4@JJJ sorry I wasn't more clear, but the point I was trying to make is that it's quasi-random. Why do some species thrive while others die out? You can say their more fit to the current environment, but that just pushes it back a step. What determines the environmental conditions? Politically this plays out as slight difference of opinion + tenuous connection to pre-existing narratives + feedback loop = something people in other countries make fun of you for. – Jared Smith – 2019-01-13T20:08:09.920


Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

– Sam I am says Reinstate Monica – 2019-01-16T23:59:02.663


The short answer is that some private citizens and elected officials think a border wall will substantially contribute to the policy objective of acting as a deterrent to illegal immigration and drug smuggling and is a sound proposed investment in U.S. national security; and other private citizens and elected officials think that a border wall will not substantially contribute to the policy objective of acting a deterrent to illegal immigration and drug smuggling and is not a sound proposed investment in U.S. national security.

The issue might presently appear to some to be particularly polarizing because it is a case of first impression and is a live controversy directly involving or affecting several nations and millions of people that has not been settled.


Posted 2019-01-11T21:18:03.000

Reputation: 1

23I don't think disagreement about the effectiveness of the wall is the issue. If the effectiveness of government programs costing 5 billion or more was sufficient reason to shut down government then the government would be permanently shut down. – user1450877 – 2019-01-12T01:10:41.280

@user1450877 "I don't think" The language at your comment is consistent with and demonstrates the reason for the observation made at the answer. For each individual who "thinks" the proposed project is a good idea, there roughly exists an individual who "thinks" the proposed project is not a good idea. The matter is not settled. Therefore polarization could be a reasonable description of the current events through a neutral lens. See https://politics.stackexchange.com/help/self-answer

– guest271314 – 2019-01-12T01:22:34.450

@1450877 especially when you consider that as late as a decade ago it was the Democrats that wanted to stop illegal immigration because they said it hurts low income American workers and it was the GOP that resisted because the large corporate donors wanted the low cost wages. – MolonLabe – 2019-01-12T04:42:17.503

10We spend $50 billion dollars a year on foreign aid with no tangible returns on investment. I agree that it's not about the $ – MolonLabe – 2019-01-12T04:45:08.350

6You could add a third group: people who think the Wall would not just be ineffective and thus a waste of money, but would be counterproductive in addressing the actual problems (to the extent that they really are problems, and not just Trump race-baiting), even if Mexico really would pay for it. – jamesqf – 2019-01-12T20:03:28.070

2@jamesqf: And a group for whom deterring unrestricted immigration is not a policy objective (not sure if you meant your third group to be that, or it is a fourth) – Ben Voigt – 2019-01-13T18:21:11.403

1@jamesqf From perspective here, having no stake in or position as to whether a U.S.-Mexico border wall is constructed or not (do not care one one way or the other), there are only two groups. Ironically, the more presumptive distinct groups that would be added to the list only compounds the perceived polarization to exponentially expanding poles. Consider "I don't think" at the first comment multiplied by 300+ million people; with only a maximum of 545 individuals actually having the official power to make the final decision which settles the matter. – guest271314 – 2019-01-13T19:12:35.070

1jamesqf is not talking about whether the wall is useful or not, just the reasons. It's blatantly obvious (not just a "think") that concerns over the cost-effectiveness of the wall are not the reason for the government shutdown, for exactly the reason jamesqf stated. – user253751 – 2019-01-13T23:16:34.203

@user wait do you think people agree it would be effective or wouldn't be? I actually can't tell – Azor Ahai -him- – 2019-01-13T23:46:43.133

4@MolonLabe, I've heard that argument but how do you measure the effectiveness of sending $1B to, say, Venezuela for humanitarian purposes and a reduction of the number of people fleeing that country to the US border? The main purpose of foreign aid, it seems to me, is to stabilize another country so the residents can remain there safely. Would it be better to let them flee and have millions of people on the US border instead of thousands? – CramerTV – 2019-01-14T20:43:07.637

@AzorAhai-User's comment did not say anything with regards to the effectiveness of the wall because it has nothing to do with why the issue is polarizing. The bottom line is that democrats supported funding for a wall when Obama was president. Democrats oppose funding for the wall because Trump campaigned on the issue. There are certainly tangential reasons, but bottom line is democrats (and a sizable number of establishment republicans) will take the opposite side of any meaningful issue from Trump for political purposes only. Any answer saying anything else is just plain wrong or irrelevant – Dunk – 2019-01-15T19:55:03.957

@CramerTv obviously it's not working. In 1950 Venezuela was the 3rd wealthiest country in the world per capita. We give foreign aid to China & then borrow money back from them. We give aid to like 160 countries it's completely obnoxious – MolonLabe – 2019-01-16T00:40:43.000


The wall itself (whether effective or otherwise) is a symbol for the entire debate concerning how open America should be to immigration.

enter image description here

Large numbers of people also incorrectly believe most immigrants are here illegally, making their opinions on illegal immigration a proxy for their opinions on immigration generally enter image description here

One of the reasons for this debate is that it is very difficult for people to enter the United States legally.

  • If you are the child (over 21 years of age) of a US citizen, you are in the first preference. The wait for a US visa in this category can be six years.
  • If you are the child or spouse of a green card holder, you are in the second preference. The wait for a US visa in this category can be five to ten years.
  • If you are the married child of a US citizen, you are in third preference. The wait for a US visa in this category can be eight years.
  • If you are the sibling of a US citizen, you are in fourth preference. Several things can affect waiting times of family-sponsored green card applications.

People who think we should be more open to immigration see this and oppose steps to enforce our immigration laws because they see our immigration system's rejection of people who want to contribute to our country's success as both immoral and counterproductive, as well as a general failure for our government to enact laws to open up our immigration system more generally (indeed, evidence points towards actions that go in the exact opposite direction). They also see it as against our basic cultural values, against a potential source of economic prosperity, and against the source of some of our most impactful successes. This motivates a lot of the "sanctuary" legislation and more general opposition to the wall.

On the other side there are a few camps, those hostile to foreigners because they are essentially racist (it is perhaps educational to wonder why there is no clamoring to build a wall between the USA and Canada and secure our northern border). Then there are those hostile to foreigners because they are foreign (see Michael Kay's answer, additionally they may see competent foreign competition as a threat to their own employment or salary) and finally those that are hostile to immigrants who enter illegally because they see them as inherently law breakers (they entered "illegally", after all) and therefore automatically criminals and likely to commit more crimes (despite the general lower incidence of crime among immigrants when compared to the population at large). (Edit: I believe the arguments helpfully laid out by TheLeopard in the comments below are representative of those given by this last group) enter image description here


Posted 2019-01-11T21:18:03.000

Reputation: 1 121

4This doesn't make sense. The way to increase immigration is to make legal immigration simpler. No one is trying to do that. They are only trying to maintain illegal immigration. – jpmc26 – 2019-01-16T08:50:05.810


Illegal aliens shouldn't be in the country, so Americans shouldn't have to suffer their crimes at all. Among nearly 4,000 first- and second-degree murder convictions, undocumented immigrants accounted for nearly 13 percent — significantly higher than their percentage of the population.

Undocumented immigrants also accounted for five times the rate of convictions for money laundering and kidnapping, and were three times more likely to be convicted of drive-by shootings. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/jan/26/illegals-commit-crimes-double-rate-native-born-stu/

– TheLeopard – 2019-01-16T16:36:08.437


@TheLeopard So I found the study you quoted and it's worth mentioning, the author of that study, John Lott, has been caught cooking the books on his statistics in the past (detailed here under Myth One).

– TemporalWolf – 2019-01-16T22:36:05.567

I reviewed the analysis you linked and the author states that Lott used an inadequate data set and statistical model. The author does not state that Lott made fraudulent statements or falsifications, which is what cooking the books means. The author goes on to state in Myth Two that " It is quite common, even typical, for rival studies to be published using econometric methods to reach opposite conclusions about the same issue." – TheLeopard – 2019-01-17T00:31:29.990

Here's one about the fraud felonies illegals commit https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/immigration/326272-most-illegal-aliens-routinely-commit-felonies and another article with linked GAO reports about it https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/immigration/327229-crimes-by-illegal-aliens-not-legal-immigrants-are-the-real

– TheLeopard – 2019-01-17T00:37:54.237

Here's one focused on violent crimes https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2015/07/illegal_aliens_murder_at_a_much_higher_rate_than_us_citizens_do.html

– TheLeopard – 2019-01-17T00:46:06.043

4NOBODY knows how many illegal aliens are in the country. There isn't even a common ground range where experts agree, unless you count +/- 20 million common ground. Thus, while all the charts and tables in this post appear to describe something; what they show is absolutely meaningless. – Dunk – 2019-01-17T15:24:08.487

I appreciate the comments attempting to help, but there seems to be some extraordinary claims being made that "no one does this" and "nobody knows this" without any supporting evidence. Argument can never be a substitute for evidence when trying to learn things and claims about the entire population of the earth (necessarily implied by claims that no one does this) require quite extraordinary evidence indeed. Without such evidence I'm afraid I cannot really incorporate anything into my answer. – magnus.orion – 2019-01-19T05:25:59.637

1"it is very difficult for people to enter the United States legally" -> the law is difficult to follow, so I'll just go ahead and break it? This argument makes no sense. – JonathanReez – 2019-02-18T03:53:16.647

These graphs and charts are meaningless because they are a % of the overall population. People can't comprehend that a group that only makes up 5-10% of the population is going to commit fewer crimes than the group that makes up 90% of the population? We need to see what % of persons within each individual group commits crimes, not the # compared to the overall population. This graph is intentionally deceptive – Aporter – 2019-02-21T04:32:17.170

@Aporter The graphs are not deceptive at all. The graphs are not compared to the overall population, they are indeed, as you describe is desirable, the % of persons within each individual group. Here's the source. https://www.cato.org/publications/immigration-research-policy-brief/criminal-immigrants-texas-illegal-immigrant

– magnus.orion – 2019-02-24T05:10:29.113

@ magnus.orion it says right in the header above the graph "despite the general lower incidence of crime among immigrants when compared to the population at large". This article is absurd! Almost nobody opposes illegal immigration because they are "racist"! Total strawman! Much of my heritage is German, I don't want illegal German immigrants any more than Hispanic, Muslim or anything else. Everyone I have heard of who opposes illegal migration feels the same way. As long as you keeping blaming the issue on racism the problem will never be solved. – Aporter – 2019-02-24T05:37:22.190

@Aporter As I have provided the source which explains the methodology, I think its clear what the graph shows. "Almost nobody", again, have you interviewed every single person on this issue? Unfortunately, interviewing only the people you know is not scientific, it is a form of cherry picking. I'd prefer to look at everyone, even people you do not know. I indicate that these are not the only views but there do exist people who do support building the wall out of racism. – magnus.orion – 2019-02-24T15:15:43.683

@magnus.orion If there's a 100 illegal immigrants in the population & 1,000 citizens in the population OBVIOUSLY when compared to "the population at large" the number of criminals within the citizenry is going to be higher. These graphs are a lie. If they were not they would show how many criminals per 1,000 or per 100 within each group are criminals. Fact is that the % is lowest among legal immigrants, highest in illegal immigrants. AND show me the scientific study that shows that the illegal immigration issue is based on racism. Just because CNN has told you that 1000x doesn't mean it's true – Aporter – 2019-02-26T10:57:47.427

@aporter Again, they do show how many criminals per 100,000 within each group. The fact is what you claim is not the case. I cited the actual study the numbers are based on which explains the methodology. Attitudes towards illegal immigration are linked with racism frequently, see, for instance: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/07399863970194001

– magnus.orion – 2019-02-26T15:45:41.647

@ magnus you need to learn how to read, it's per 100,000 people in the general population and doesn't denote how many ppl are within each group – Aporter – 2019-03-01T00:05:27.893

@aporter "Natives were convicted of 409,708 crimes, illegal immigrants were convicted of 15,803 crimes, and legal immigrants were convicted of 17,785 crimes in Texas in 2015. Thus, there were 1,797 criminal convictions of natives for every 100,000 natives, 899 criminal convictions of illegal immigrants for every 100,000 illegal immigrants, and 611 criminal convictions of legal immigrants for every 100,000 legal immigrants (Figure 1)." Please explain how I'm misunderstanding this quote from the source of the graph. – magnus.orion – 2019-03-04T03:31:38.937

@magnus.orion the #s are taken from, and I am quoting here: "when compared to the population at large" which means the numbers are per 100,000 persons, not per 100,000 illegal immigrants or per 100,000 legal immigrants etc. It's per 100,000 persons in the total population. – Aporter – 2019-03-05T05:17:13.787

@magnus.orion according to the Center for Immigration studies 26% of the Federal prison population are illegal aliens, they do NOT make up anywhere near 26% of the general population: https://cis.org/Huennekens/DOJ-26-Federal-Prisoners-Are-Aliens

– Aporter – 2019-03-05T11:40:26.380

@aporter If you are getting "when compared to the population at large" from the answer, you do realize that I wrote that, right? Otherwise where are you getting it from? – magnus.orion – 2019-03-05T11:52:35.027

@magnus.orion just above your bottom graph (despite the general lower incidence of crime among immigrants when compared to the population at large) – Aporter – 2019-03-05T11:58:45.853

@your answer doesn't actually answer the question. If furthers the polarization, because it is so obviously biased. All you did was "prove" the question and offer a massive example of the polarization. – Aporter – 2019-03-05T12:21:02.537


They could make a deal

The problem is Trump himself. He reneges on deals, sometimes even before the "other side" has left the room. Before you can possibly make any sort of deal, both sides need to have some credibility that the other would uphold their side of a bargain. To date, Trump, as President, has not shown that he is willing to back his words and tweets with any reliability.

surely ... are equally affected by the criminal behaviour as well?

I don't agree that the border is suddenly a crisis. The majority of illegal immigrants arrive with legal visas and overstay their visa. These will not be affected by any sort of magic wall. The insistence on a wall along the border with Mexico and complete silence about a wall along the border with Canada strikes me as mendacious racism.

The Eastern Bloc portrayed the Wall as protecting its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the "will of the people" in building a socialist state in East Germany.

GDR authorities officially referred to the Berlin Wall as the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart

When East Germany built the Berlin Wall, they claimed that it was to protect DDR from "fascists" sneaking over the border sabotaging East Germany. In fact, it was built to keep East Germans from escaping. That so much effort has been devoted to the current "emergency", along to so many lies, tells me that the real reason for the wall is not to keep Mexicans out, but Americans in. I see no reason to assist Trump in building a Tortilla Curtain.


Posted 2019-01-11T21:18:03.000

Reputation: 669

1This is an absurdly biased answer. – Aporter – 2019-03-05T12:22:58.877