Why you should care
Because there’s a big pool of available workers.
Sean Braswell’s satire series Augmented Reality embellishes news and current events, giving reality a more interesting look and feel.
For the moment, the White House appears to have backed down from its demand that Congress include money for Donald Trump’s “big, beautiful” border wall as part of a funding agreement that must be reached to avoid a government shutdown. But the president remains determined to erect some form of southern perimeter, reiterating in a tweet this week that “[i]t will get built.”
Of course, in addition to a reluctant Congress, the Great Wall of America has run into a few other obstacles along the way, from its astronomical cost and Mexico’s refusal to pay to a massive shortage of the (legal) construction labor needed to attempt such a large project. Things look pretty bad for a pretty bad idea, but all is not lost. There’s one simple solution staring the president right in the face that could allow him to muster both the political will and the cheap labor necessary to pursue his audacious vision: Enlist undocumented workers to build the wall in return for a path to U.S. citizenship.
Sure, it’s far-fetched (this is an “augmented reality” column) and somewhat callous, but so is building a 1,300-mile goddamn border wall. Still, the proposal is not as crazy as it sounds — and it would actually be in keeping with the president’s promise to build a “big, fat, beautiful, open door” in the wall to let in legal immigrants. Why not let the first to pass through that door be the ones who helped build it?
Trump wants to win, and that means breaking ground.
Estimates for the wall’s cost range from $10 billion to $40 billion, a huge chunk of which will be labor costs: Average construction wages are more than $28 per hour, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, and there is also a massive shortage of workers who are legal and vetted to work on government projects. The potential good news? Of the estimated 11.1 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., according to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center, it is believed that more than 1 million are unauthorized construction workers (half of the construction workers in Texas alone are undocumented). That’s a huge pool of potential labor, and one that could be incentivized to work for even less than their normal off-the-books wage with one very big carrot: a path to citizenship for them and their families.
This sounds like amnesty and 19 million tons of concrete, you say. Why would Republicans ever go for it? But this is not a free pass; this is months, maybe years, of hard labor, and what is more conservative than allowing someone who has broken the law to pay their debt to society with a little sweat? Besides, it would mean millions fewer taxpayer dollars being spent on bolstered deportation forces. And remember: Trump, a construction tycoon who has reportedly cut more than a few corners in the past, could give two sh*ts about consistency or political ideology. He wants to win, and that means breaking ground.
Besides, a little GOP opposition won’t matter if there’s some Democratic support, which currently hovers around 8 percent for the wall. How might that change? Well, in addition to a path to citizenship, the wall would be the greatest public works project since the Hoover Dam, and liberals love “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects, even ones that result in some form of government-owned property of dubious value. And if the ruling party and president are dead set on building a Wall to Nowhere, then why not get something in return? Democrats could add “Builders” to the Dreamers.
To be sure, this is no ordinary path to citizenship; it requires asking some immigrants to help construct a barrier that could limit the passage of future individuals, even members of their own family. But let’s face it, the wall is largely a “show barrier” that won’t really tamp down illegal immigration. And so our expensive, ineffective wall, with its big door, and not Ellis Island, would henceforth become the symbol of America’s true ambivalence to new arrivals.
Finally, and most important, a wall-citizenship pact would give the president more than his promised barrier. It could confer a political victory, the appearance of magnanimity and perhaps even some degree of amnesty for past political offenses. And who really doubts that for a man who does not let details or facts stand in the way of saving face, building a wall with undocumented workers is totally the same thing as making Mexico pay for it? (Let’s just hope he keeps his bargain with contractors better than he has in the past).
If this sounds like the worst, most paradoxical policy bargain you’ve ever heard of being made in an effort to claim victory on a big, dumb idea, well, you’re probably right, but welcome to policy in the age of Trump.