Donald Trump’s attempt to use emergency powers to fund a massive wall along the US–Mexico border has been widely ridiculed, and for good reason. His characteristically breathless claims that the United States “cannot be safe” without “The Steel Barrier” to stop “‘Criminals, Gangs, Human Traffickers, Drugs & so much other big trouble” don’t bear much scrutiny.
Official statistics show that unlawful movement across the southern US border is at a twenty-year low, and that most undocumented migrants don’t sneak in overland but arrive through normal channels and then overstay their visas. Experts point out that that illicit drugs, too, are generally smuggled through official points of entry (or perhaps tunnels) rather than across the unfenced frontier. Investing US$20 billion or more in extra walls won’t solve the problem Trump claims he is trying to fix.
But it’s far too easy for us to smugly criticise Trump’s plan. Australia already has its own equivalent of his pointless wall — the continued offshore processing regime in Manus and Nauru. What is worse, it is a folly that enjoys bipartisan support, and also costs an enormous amount. Federal budget papers show that offshore processing cost $1 billion or more in every year from 2013–14 to 2017–18.
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