A steel wall separates Nogales, Sonora, Mexico from Nogales, Ariz.
A steel wall separates Nogales, Sonora, Mexico from Nogales, Ariz. - 
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SCOTT JAGOW: On this immigration debate in Congress, one of the only things the House and Senate agree on is the need for a physical barrier along the Mexican border. But our economics correspondent Chris Farrell says lawmakers should consider the symbolic impact of walls and fences.

CHRIS FARRELL: Let's go back to 1987. President Ronald Regan is in Berlin and he's looking at the Berlin Wall and he says. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." And two years later, the Berlin Wall came down. And that moment marked mdash; symbolically — the new global economy. It symbolized the massive increases in trade and investment and movement of people. And so what worries me about the building of a wall, or a virtual fence or whatever you want to call it, is that it repudiates the spirit of the North American free Trade Agreement. It repudiates the spirit of global trade, and it comes at a particularly difficult time for people who do support open borders, open trade. People like me.

JAGOW: But a lot of American workers are pretty frustrated and the idea behind this is to keep out more illegal immigrants from coming into this country so isn't there a valid argument there?

FARRELL: People are understandably frustrated. Immigrants from Mexico, the outsourcing of information technology jobs to India. And you know, industry after industry is laying off workers, a lot of pension plans are imploding, health care costs are going up. The problem is: Building a wall is the solution to none of these problems. Freer trade, open borders is good for the US economy by and large. There are certain segments that will be hurt. There are certain communities that are being hurt or overwhelmed by immigration but they're fairly isolated. Building a wall, symbolically, is the wrong thing to do.

JAGOW: But if we don't build a wall or fence along the border then what do we do about all the immigrants coming into the country.

FARRELL: I'm not going to get in trouble with a lot of people; I'm just not that concerned about it frankly. I just don't think it's that big a deal. Politically it's a huge deal. Culturally it's a huge deal. Economically I don't think it's a very big deal. And you can look at a number of really good economic studies, immigrants coming here, legal, illegal, not having that great an impact on wages.

JAGOW: So are you saying that illegal immigrants should just be allowed to pour across the border unchecked?

FARRELL: No at this point we can't allow anyone to pour across the border unchecked. I mean I do think what the US has a big stake in is increasing the wealth in Mexico and frankly if growth in Mexico, which has been improving, continues to grow, more people are going to go back as those opportunities are there.

JAGOW: Alright Chris, thanks a lot.

FARRELL: Thank you.

Chris Farrell is the Marketplace Economics Correspondent.