We need Trump's wall, both physical and psychological

Throughout the 2016 campaign it was said that Donald Trump’s supporters took him seriously but not literally, while his critics took literally but not seriously.

One of those things that critics took literally, but not seriously, was Trump’s calls for a wall along the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border. Supporters tended to interpret his statements as an acknowledgement that mass illegal immigration is a serious problem and as a commitment to take steps to halt it. After decades of empty rhetoric from both political parties, voters welcomed what seems to be a sincere commitment to address the corrosive effects of unchecked illegal immigration on American workers and taxpayers.

It is likely that under the Trump administration there will be additional physical barriers along the southern border. But equally as important, the new administration should strive to create psychological barriers to illegal immigration. The most effective and humane way to secure our borders is to send a clear message to people that they will not benefit by coming to the United States illegally.

The best way to discourage people from coming illegally would be to remove the incentives that draw them here, most notably the prospect of jobs. The new administration and Congress should take immediate steps to create a virtual wall by making the now voluntary E-Verify system mandatory for all employers. This Internet-based system maintained by the federal government and is already in use for federal contractors and in some states. It allows employers to verify that the people they are hiring are legally eligible to work in this country, using the same technology that credit card companies use to verify hundreds of millions of commercial transactions every day.

Mandatory E-Verify would also go a long way toward deterring illegal immigrants who cannot be stopped by even the most secure physical wall. An estimated 40 percent of all illegal aliens in the United States arrived here legally and overstayed their visas. With severely diminished job prospects the biggest incentive to remain here illegally would be eliminated.

Given the appeal of economic populism in the recent election, legislation to protect American workers by making E-Verify a universal part of the hiring process is one area where the new administration should be able to find bipartisan support. Moreover, there is a sound ethical basis addressing illegal immigration by deterring people from coming and convincing many who are here to return home.

Two congressionally authorized commissions – one headed by Father Theodore Hesburgh in the 1980s and another by civil rights icon Barbara Jordan in the 1990s – both concluded that there were no moral or policy reasons to tolerate illegal immigration. The 1995 Jordan Commission report stressed that “Credibility in immigration policy can be summed up in one sentence: those who should get in, get in; those who should be kept out, are kept out; and those who should not be here will be required to leave.”

Both the Hesburgh and the Jordan Commissions made it clear that the motivation factor for enforcing our immigration laws is not animus toward the people who are coming here illegally, but rather to protect the interests of American workers and taxpayers. Deterrence coupled with reasonable levels of enforcement are how we enforce all civil laws in our society and there is no reason why we should not apply the same principles to ensuring that our immigration laws are respected.

If there was one unmistakable message in this election, it is that voters are demanding that their elected official take them seriously. Immigration, particularly large-scale illegal immigration, is one of those issues where the political establishment of both parties has consistently refused to take the public’s concerns seriously. The public, including many people who did not vote for Trump, are serious about wanting the unending flow of illegal immigration halted.

Whether it is a real wall, or a psychological one such as universal E-Verify that deters people from coming illegally, is probably not all that important to most Americans. What is important is that Washington finally takes steps to protect the public interest and end mass illegal immigration.

Richard D. Lamm was governor of Colorado from 1975 to 1987.