The Fruitlessness of the “Fruitless Wall” Argument

Border_fence_below_El_PasoThe current presidential campaign has sparked significant discussion about border walls. Time Magazine ran an article entitled “This Is Why Border Fences Don’t Work.” Politico ran an analogous feature called “The World Is Full of Walls That Don’t Work.” There are literally hundreds of pieces making similar claims. What is the basis for these assertions?

The “fruitless wall” argument is usually perched atop a single faulty premise: A false comparison with allegedly failed historical border partitions. These arguments are as conceptually foolish as they are historically erroneous. Almost always, the barriers being referenced weren’t constructed to control immigration. And all served their intended purpose for an extended period. What’s usually classed as “failure” of the barrier is really an event of epic historical proportions like the collapse of an empire or the fall of communism.

The Ming Dynasty’s “Great Wall” was never intended to serve as a border barrier but as a fallback position for Chinese military forces operating outside the wall. It was only breached when the treasonous Ming general Wu Sangui opened the gates and let in the Manchu. Although the Manchu expanded Chinese borders beyond the wall, they maintained it, rather than tearing it down.

Evidence indicates that Hadrian’s Wall was not intended to repel anyone. Rather, it appears to have been part of the Roman customs system. Its gates, like modern toll booths, were used to collect duties. It seems to have worked. History is replete with complaints from Briton and Celtic merchants about Roman taxes.

Rarely mentioned by commentators are Israel’s border fences. Perhaps their purpose has been too clear and their success too demonstrable: They were constructed specifically to secure and monitor Israel’s West Bank and Gaza boundaries with the Palestinian Authority. Upon construction of these double-layer security fences, Palestinian terrorist attacks dropped over ninety percent because the bulk of terrorists were denied access to Israel’s territory. 

While no barrier can be one hundred percent effective, the “Fruitless Wall” argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Israel’s fences demonstrate that border barriers are an effective form of immigration control.  If the U.S. wishes to secure its southern border, it must complete the double-layer security fence mandated by Congress in 1996.

avatar About Matt O'Brien

Matthew J. O’Brien joined FAIR in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar JC says:

    the wall is and always has been a great idea. after all, we can eat up the US budget sending our boys and girls all over the world to fight wars for corporations but we cant send our own down to our borders? when I try to talk to my wife about world events and the apathy that is rampant throughout America she says I don’t want to talk about it because it does not interest me. I love my wife, however, she is a sheeple and I have to adjust to that fact. Americans in general either don’t know or don’t want to explore what is going on around them and ignore with great precision the obvious. they are the proverbial frogs in the slow boiling pot. while the treasonists, our gelding government so to speak, always never mention E-VERIFY intentionally. E-VERIFY simply screens potential employees for immigration status and if enforced would eliminate not only illegal immigration, but any need for a wall on the border. if these parasites cant steal a job from Americans, they cant eat, rent or buy an abode, or survive in this country. ALWAYS TELL OR ASK SOMEONE WHY E-VERIFY IS NOT ENFORCED!

    • avatar William Hues says:

      Walls are needed because of or governments refusal to enforce the laws that presently exist. If e- verified was enforced and drivers licenses were not issued to illegals, and sanction free cities didn’t exist, then a wall would not e needed. I’ll tell you why, because they, liberals, want no borders and a one world philosophy.

  2. avatar SecBorders says:

    There are also the “Peace Walls” in Northern Ireland, some as tall as 50-60 feet, over half of which have been built since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. These walls segregate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods and the amount of “peace” that has been maintained, if you can call it that, since 1998 has depended on these walls and the segregation of neighborhoods.

    The history of Northern Ireland is a good example of why it is so dangerous that we currently have millions of citizens of Mexico settling in the Southwestern US that are not assimilating and that believe the Southwestern US belongs to Mexico. One only has to look at the history of Northern Ireland to see what can happen when two groups of people live in the same geographic area that they both believe belong to their respective countries, and which one group took from the other through military force.

    And I am aware that there are many patriotic Americans of Mexican heritage, but the reality is that many of the millions settling here both illegally and legally are not assimilating.

    • avatar Leland says:

      Not only do they not assimilate but they automatically have an attitude that the law does not apply to them. Is that who we want as citizens? I have read that if you get caught on the wrong side of those Northern Ireland walls at night you’re lucky to escape with a beating. When the PGA moved one of it’s tournaments from Trump’s Doral Miami club to Mexico City, Rory McIlroy said they would just jump the wall to play. Ironic since he’s from Northern Ireland himself. A little hypocritical I think.

      Appears there is a new tape of Trump making a lot of crude comments about women about a decade ago. Hillary, naturally, is horrified. To me it sounds like his typical bragging like a high school kid. On Oct. 2 the NY Times ran a story about how every time Bill got accused of something, Hillary went on the warpath against the women. When Gennifer Flowers played a recording of phone conversations with Bill, confirming an affair, Hillary’s reaction, according to journalist Gail Sheehy, was of “immediate anger” but ” not anger at Bill, but at Flowers, the press, and Republicans.” Later she told Sheehy that if she got Flowers in front of a jury, ” I would crucify her. “

      • avatar SecBorders says:

        Wow, I am so shocked that Trump made crude comments about women! He’s never done anything like that before!

        Seriously, if I had a daughter that was going to be working at the White House for the next four years, would I want Trump to be President, or would I want Bill Clinton hanging around? I’d choose Trump by far.

        Hilarious to see the feigned moral outrage by politicians like Jeb Bush and Romney. They think it’s great to ship jobs overseas and fire American women and in the process drive down wages for American working women overall. And Jeb Bush thinks open borders are great. What about all the American women that have been raped or murdered by illegal aliens, Jeb? Give me a break, spare me your phony self-righteousness.

  3. avatar Joe P says:

    A wall is an additional TOOL TO HELP Border Patrol Agents do their job effectively.
    And a wall can be an effective tool, just like night vision goggles, fire arms, vehicles, electronic sensors, aircraft etc.
    As with all these tools there must be enough manpower to use these resources effectively. When the Border Patrol increases its manpower enough to secure the Southern Border, a wall, as a tool, will aid Agents in doing their job.
    Most of the walls detractors are afraid that it actually WILL WORK. They want Open Borders. Anything that makes a Border Patrol Agent ‘s job more effective or easier or increases Agent manpower will be bad mouthed by the Open Border people, and that especially includes a well constructed Wall and/or Fence.

  4. Even War Video Games

    Are using the “build the wall” theme….its how ya win….

  5. avatar Leland says:

    Let’s see what our Brit buddies have to say about Hadrian’s Wall. From

    “Hadrian’s death in AD 138 brought a new emperor to power. The emperor Antonius Pius abandoned Hadrian’s Wall and moved the frontier up to the Forth-Clyde isthmus, where he built a new wall, this time of turf-the Antonine Wall. This had a short life of about 20 years before being abandoned in favor of a return to Hadrian’s Wall.” “The forts on Hadrian’s Wall had a long life of nearly 300 years.”

    So actually the new emperor tried to do a new wall on the cheap, but eventually it did not work and they had to go back to the wall that WAS working, Hadrian’s. And the most important fact is that the decline in effectiveness of Hadrian’s Wall went hand in hand with the complete collapse of the Roman empire. They simply did not have the forces to hold their territories.

    The Israel wall has absolutely worked. This is close enough in history to be documented. Israel was suffering suicide bomber attacks on a weekly basis. Dozens were killed in attacks on cafes, buses and stores. Their wall stopped that.

    There is also another “wall” that has worked. The Clinton administration built a double layer fence along the California border in the1990s. That is when the shift to the much longer and more dangerous route through the deserts to Arizona began, not by choice but because the California border was blocked. Again, all documented.

    • avatar SecBorders says:

      Hillary says she doesn’t want to build walls, she wants to “build bridges”. But somehow I think that most of the people that will pour into this country over those “bridges” are people Hillary wouldn’t want to move in next door to her or attend the same school as her grandchildren.

      But no worries for Hillary, that will be a problem for Americans with a lower income level than the Clintons, Americans who don’t make a couple hundred grand for giving a speech or who don’t make millions from being paid of to approve arms deals for human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia.