There are a lot of threats to your job these days. If you’re a blue-collar worker, you should be giving some serious thought to how automation and artificial intelligence might impact your career in the near future, or even just how valuable you are to your employer in anticipation of the next economic downturn. Immigration is something to be concerned about as well, as more and more companies manage to snake through legal loopholes to take advantage of the H1B visa program.
In that case, immigration does pose a threat to your job, albeit that has more to do with your employer’s decisions than it does illegal immigrants. But in all likelihood, your job and livelihood is not threatened by immigrants — particularly those illegally crossing the southern border dividing the United States and Mexico.
Despite some of the rhetoric swirling around that very issue from one of the 2016 election’s front runners, Donald Trump.
Trump has promised to build a wall, stretching the entire length of the Mexican border. All 2,000 or so miles of it. The plan was ravaged by critics as ridiculous, and far too expensive. He countered by saying that he could get Mexico to pay for it, an idea for which he has since floated strategies to coerce our southern neighbors into doing so. His plan for a “great wall” has been a hit among his supporters, many of whom feel that it would stymie the flow of illegal immigrants into the country, and save American jobs from being taken by new arrivals.
But, like many of Trump’s promises, the wall will probably never come to fruition. Even if it did, it wouldn’t do much to save anyone’s jobs. The truth is, if you’re in a position in which your job is seriously threatened by an illegal immigrant, you’re probably going to face competition from automation and technology sooner rather than later.
Moreover, as technology continues to grow and become more complex, more and more jobs are going to go online — meaning that anyone, anywhere, will be able to do it, assuming they have the skill set. As Reihan Salam recently wrote in an article for Slate, “you can’t build a wall high enough.”
In that piece, Salam lays out the case that no physical barrier — not even Trump’s proposed wall — will be able to save American jobs. That’s because, as mentioned, foreign workers won’t actually need to be in America to do American jobs. As new communications technologies become more ubiquitous, and much cheaper worldwide, the costs of outsourcing jobs is dropping drastically. And not just the manufacturing jobs of the past; we’re seeing it happen in the tech industry, as well as in customer service and other sectors.
This might be cause for concern for a number of American workers going into the future, but the underlying theme remains the same: Trump’s wall won’t help.
But there are a couple of other important swirling economic trends taking place that we need to look at. First, Trump’s plan to build the wall along the Mexican border, to stop immigrants from Mexico and Central America, may be an attempt at solving a problem that is seemingly solving itself. During the economically explosive years of the 1990s and at points during the mid-2000s, immigrants were coming the U.S. looking for jobs and better wages. With the economic strife of the past several years, many have changed their minds.
Because of that, there has actually been a reversal in immigration patterns — more Mexicans are actually leaving the U.S. than are coming to it. According to data from Pew Research Center, net migration from Mexico has been below zero since the Great Recession started, with a net loss of 140,000 individuals from 2009 to 2014.
Secondly, more Pew data shows that Mexicans and Central American immigrants aren’t even the immigrant group that Americans should be concerned about. Projects tell us that Asians will, within a matter of decades, become the largest immigrant group in the country, surpassing Hispanics at some point in the next 30 or so years.
That’s something else that Trump’s wall won’t take care of — unless he plans to fortify the entire west coast, and seal off the ports.
For these reasons, and many others, Trump’s idea to build a wall is off-base, and not to mention fiscally unsound. Though the idea has managed to gain a lot of support and get people riled up, it would do little in terms of solving any problems. And it wouldn’t save anyone’s jobs, at least not in the long-term. After all, even physical walls can be circumvented.
As the former Governor of Arizona, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano once said about a proposed border wall: “You show me a 50-foot wall and I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder at the border.”