Border walls are immoral

Support for the border wall is based on falsehoods about immigrants.

Tom Crisp and Brad Christerson

Uppated 1/28, 3:07 p.m.

This is in response to the Chimes’ opinion article entitled “Building the border wall is not immoral.” In it, the writer makes the claim that President Donald Trump’s proposal of spending $5 billion on a wall on our southern border is not immoral, but rather economically beneficial to America and a moral good because it would keep innocent Americans safer. We reject each of these claims.


First of all, the idea that immigrants impose an economic burden on Americans is empirically false. While immigrants, both undocumented and documented, cost money in terms of the public benefits they use, like public education for their kids and public hospital visits, the overwhelming evidence is that the economic benefits they bring outweigh the costs.   

In 2017, 1,470 of the top academic economists in America sent an open letter to President Trump and congressional leaders explaining the net economic benefits that immigrants bring to our economy in hopes of convincing them to allow more immigrants to come to the U.S. rather than restricting their flow. In the letter, they conclude  that “the benefits that immigration brings to society far outweigh their costs.”

The economic benefits of immigration are true for undocumented workers as well as documented immigrants. Among other things, undocumented immigrants keep businesses afloat by providing workers in industries with labor shortages like agriculture, food services and construction. In addition, undocumented workers pay billions of dollars in sales and property tax. Undocumented immigrants who use false papers contribute 5-10 billion dollars a year to the Social Security fund without the right to receive payments from the fund.

University of California Davis economist Giovanni Peri conducted a series of influential studies showing the net economic benefits of undocumented immigrants. One study concluded that because of the economic growth undocumented workers bring, tightening border controls and increasing deportations actually increase the unemployment rate of native born workers and decrease income per native resident.


The writer’s second claim is that border walls are moral because they protect innocent Americans from criminal migrants. We have two points in response.

First, suppose it is true that building more border walls and tightening border controls would prevent small numbers of criminal migrants from crossing into the United States and harming innocents. It is also true that such walls would cause enormous harm to vast numbers of innocent migrant peoples who seek honest work to provide for themselves and their families and/or escape violence and persecution. Border walls forcibly prevent such people from meeting their basic needs or escaping violence, thereby causing them enormous harm.

Note, though, that we do not generally think it morally permissible to cause harm to innocent persons in order to potentially prevent harm to others. Even if I, a surgeon, could prevent 20 deaths by euthanizing Joe, an innocent and otherwise healthy patient under my care for appendicitis, and donating his organs to twenty other patients, it would be grossly immoral to do so. As a general rule, it is not okay to do harm to an innocent person in order to potentially prevent harm to others. But building border walls does just that: it does harm to large numbers of innocents in order to potentially prevent harm to a small number of others, which connects to our second point.

The claim that a wall will make “innocent Americans”safer has the rhetorical effect of perpetuating the immoral and inaccurate stereotype that undocumented immigrants are somehow more likely to commit violent crimes than other groups of people. This slanderous claim is repeated constantly by President Trump, who famously claimed in a campaign speech that “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Four recent academic studies show that undocumented immigration does not increase the prevalence of violent crime or drug and alcohol-related offenses and that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native born residents. The idea that immigrants are somehow more violent and dangerous as a group is false and designed to stoke xenophobic, anti-immigrant passion.

As Christians, we should be concerned to follow Jesus’ injunction to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. Forcibly preventing migrant neighbors from joining our labor markets to provide for themselves and their families and/or escape violence in their home countries is a textbook case of failing to love our migrant neighbors as much as we love ourselves. Spreading false and malicious misinformation about migrant neighbors in order to stoke xenophobic passions is a textbook case of failing to love our migrant neighbors as much as we love ourselves. Supporting policies and politicians who seek to treat migrant neighbors in these ways is to likewise fail to love our migrant neighbors as much as we love ourselves.

As Christians, we should not support such policies or politicians.

Dr. Brad Christerson is a Professor of Sociology at Biola University. He is the co-author of “Growing Up in America: The Power of Race in the Lives of Teens,” “Against All Odds: The Struggle for Racial Integration in Religious Organizations,” and “The Rise of Network Christianity.”

Dr. Tom Crisp is a Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. He is co-author of “Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction” and has published widely on topics in metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of religion.

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