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President Donald Trump’s myopic push to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border reveals the violence and brutality at the center of his border policies.
At the end of the longest U.S. government shutdown in history, Congressional negotiators earlier this month approved the allocation of around $1.4 billion to border security, a number much lower than the $5.7 billion Donald Trump originally demanded, greenlighting the building of 55 miles of new fencing in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
But on February 26, in a decisive 245-182 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution to overturn Trump’s national emergency declaration. While the resolution did not receive the two-thirds vote required to override a presidential veto, 13 Republicans did vote with Democrats to pass the measure, which now goes to the Senate to be voted on in within the next 18 days.
This is not the only opposition Trump’s national emergency has faced. A coalition of 16 states filed a federal lawsuit against Trump’s plan to build his wall, claiming it unconstitutional. It is also unclear if the Supreme Court will support the president’s actions. What is clear is that 58 percent of Americans are opposed to an expansion of the wall, and not a single member of Congress representing a district along the U.S.-Mexico border supports funding the wall (although several GOP members in these districts want increased border surveillance and other forms of militarization).
The unfortunate irony of Trump’s announcement is that there is a serious crisis at the border. Families are still being torn apart, and migrants seeking their legal right to asylum are being forced to live in dire conditions due to Trump’s new “remain in Mexico” policy. Trump’s constriction of legal entries through the border, known as a metering policy, is also extending migrants’ wait times — and forcing many to go through with dangerous border crossings.
While negative rhetoric against immigrants has escalated during the Trump era, and many new policy actions have been taken to stop immigrants from legally entering the United States, the project of criminalizing migration in American began long before Trump.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which increased the number of immigrants eligible for deportation, made it easier to deport immigrants who committed minor crimes, and then increased the difficulty for immigrants living in the United States to obtain legal status.
In 2006, President George W. Bush enacted the Secure Fence Act, which built almost 700 miles of fencing along the border, reducing immigration by less than one percent, and provided Trump with a legal framework to construct his wall. At the time, the act had support from both Democrats and Republicans. Then-Senator Barack Obama even stated that “the bill before us will certainly do some good,” and that more fencing would “help stem some of the tide of illegal immigration in this country.”
The Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy and malicious metering of legal immigration build from the United States’ decades-long policy of criminalizing migration. If the Supreme Court is to approve of Trump’s national emergency declaration, it will not only be a waste of money, but it will also confirm the most destructive currents of anti-migrant nativism within the United States.
Below is a statistical snapshot of the previous and ongoing border wall construction at the US-Mexico border.
- 1,954 - Miles of U.S.-Mexico border.
- $2,300,000,000 - Cost of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which added 548 miles of border fencing.
- 0.6% - Resulting reduction in Mexican-born workers coming into the United States.
- 90 - Democratic Congress members who voted for the Secure Fence Act.
- $7 - Per capita cost of the Secure Fence Act expansion.
- $0.36 - Gain in higher wages annually by low-skilled U.S. workers from the Secure Fence Act.
- 658 - Total miles of fence on the border today.
- $5,700,000,000 - Funding requested to build an additional 330 miles of border wall.
- $21,600,000,000 - Homeland Security’s cost estimate to build it.
- 2,737 - Confirmed cases of parent-child separations at the border as of December 2018.
- Unknown - Thousands more children separated, according to Health & Human Services as of January.
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