The partial shutdown of the government has ended for now. However, there is no guarantee that it won’t happen again in 3 weeks. The debate around the border wall highlights a fundamental problem in American politics today. A recent Pew poll on the issue found that people, like their leaders’, view the wall in stark black and white terms and are unwilling to compromise. Respondents were asked if they supported expanding the border wall along the U.S.-Mexico Border and then asked about Trump’s request for funding the expansion. Among those who opposed the wall, 88% said that including Trump’s funding request in a bill to reopen the government was unacceptable while 72% of those who supported the wall said that not including Trump’s funding request was unacceptable. This is a seemingly intractable polarization of the citizenry where neither side seems to be willing to give in. Yet, is it and does it need to be? The Wall was a slogan that has become the centerpiece of the Trump border security plan. Discussions have been framed in absolutes. Trump is constantly repeating that Democrats “don’t mind crime” and “don’t care about border security”. Really? Now Democrats are claiming that a “wall is immoral”. Really?
In the early 1990’s I lived in Tucson AZ. attending graduate school. We would travel to Nogales, Sonora for food and shopping. Walking across the border checkpoint there was a wall and driving into Nogales Az. there was fencing separating the US and Mexico. In the 20 years I have been teaching I have taken students on several occasions to El Paso/Juarez to learn about border issues both from the border patrol and groups working with immigrants. Each time I am there, I see changes to the border with more fencing and walls. I believe that a wall will not be very effective. Whether people who go over the wall, under the wall, or through the wall, people who want to get here will get here. I think a far more effective strategy would be to punish employers harshly. Dry up the jobs and you reduce Undocumented immigration. Whether it is a wealthy individual who hires a nanny or a meat packing plant that advertises in Mexico, immigrants provide a valuable pool of low wage workers for corporations and the wealthy. However, in the US, we seldom punish people with power preferring to punish the powerless.
In 2006, Congress passed with bipartisan support, (80-19 in the Senate and 283-138 In the House) The Secure Fences Act and President Bush signed it into law later that year. The Act appropriated $1.4 billion and authorized the construction of hundreds of miles of additional fencing along the border with Mexico. The act specified “at least two layers of reinforced fencing.” The following year, 2007, responding to urging from the Department of Homeland Security, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, proposed an amendment to give DHS the discretion to decide what type of fence was appropriate in different areas. In 2011 when President Obama (who voted for the bill when in the Senate) announced the completion of the project, the cost had increased to 2.3 billion. The Department of Homeland Security had built 649 out of 652 miles of fencing (99.5 percent), which included 299 miles of vehicle barriers and 350 miles of pedestrian fence of which, 36.3 miles is the double-layer fencing. The current debate that has kept the government shut down a record 35 days is about 5.7 Billion dollars. What will that get us? According to DHS it would build 215 miles of border “wall” but if the experience of 2006’s effort is any indication it might get us 60 or 70 miles. Does anyone really believe there are not 60 or 70 miles of the border, that would not be more secure with a “wall” (or steel slat fence). Really? In the big scheme of the federal budget, $5 billion is a rounding error. In fiscal year 2019, the federal government is slated to spend 4.4 trillion dollars. We are fighting over .11 percent of the total budget. All this while during the 2018 fiscal year, Congress earmarked 14.7 billion for their special projects including over half a billion dollars for upgrades to the Abrams M1A1 tank the Department of Defense doesn’t want! Really? Even if he gets $5 billion, there promises to be years of court battles as the Administration acquires much of the land on which to build the wall from private owners through eminent domain.
So, what is the problem? The great dealmaker is not so good at making deals. He had one last summer with $25 Billion for border security in exchange for DACA and his budget request for 2019 asked for 1.6 billion, which he got in the bill that Paul Ryan scuttled at Trump’s request before Christmas. Trump does not understand the processes and he is not used to being unable to act on spur of the moment thoughts in a unilateral way. Unfortunately, Trump is a petulant incompetent oaf and the majority of Americans understood that when they voted for Hillary Clinton. However, he won and we will have to deal with it. The D