March debate page. Taken from the March 2019 print edition.
By Sydney Stumpf and Abhishek Rana
A major promise of President Donald Trump’s campaign was the building of a wall along the Southern border of the United States. Another promise was the fact that Mexico was to pay for the wall to be built. Now, in the third year of his presidency, these promises are fractured. Trying to get funding through Congress, and now through a national emergency, the American people are faced with the question: Is the wall proposed by Donald Trump even a good idea? Here, Abhishek Rana takes the affirmative side, while Sydney Stumpf takes the opposition. Let us know what you think on maldenblueandgold.com.Y
It was a little more than a decade ago when Congress passed the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorized the construction of 700-miles of double-layered fencing along parts of the U.S-Mexico Border. 26 current and former Senate Democrats voted for the legislation that was signed into law by President Bush. The list included prominent Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama.
But here we are now, in 2019, and the Democratic party, along with its base, has completely flip-flopped over the issue of a physical barrier on the border. The mainstream talking point of the Democratic party today has become that walls are in fact “immoral,” “wasteful,” and “ineffective.” These talking points have been reverberated by Democrats like Senate-Minority Leader Chuck Schumer who once were adamant supporters of additional border fencing.
In fact, the extent of the shift in the Democratic party’s stance on the wall is highlighted on polling conducted regarding the border wall before and after Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015. As Emily Esco, director of polling at the Cato Institute, points out, “between 2005 and 2015, polls show that nearly half of Democrats continued to support building a border barrier of some kind.” However, after 2015 the number dramatically plunged to a point now, where only 12% of Democrats say they support a border wall or fence.
What this suggests is that the debate over a border wall has really become a debate over the President, which, unfortunately, is a recipe for a stalemate. So perhaps President Trump should realize that his rhetoric on immigration, which he believes is a successful tactic for rallying his base, is also polarizing an issue that once had somewhat of a bipartisan understanding.
The border wall has reached a symbolic point in American politics where it alone has a significant impact on the electoral prospects of officials from both parties. The Democrats simply cannot allow President Trump to fulfill this crucial campaign promise, which makes the party’s stance on the wall understandable to a certain extent.
What is not reasonable, however, is the Democratic party’s arguments, or lack thereof, against a border wall. Claims made by Democrats that the wall is “immoral,” “inefficient,” and “wasteful,” are, quite frankly, laughable.
So let’s analyze these arguments separately:
First, let's look at the argument that a wall is a wasteful use of resources. Even though I agree with the President’s proposal, I do have a problem with his National Emergency declaration because it sets a bad precedent of executive overreach that should and most likely will be shut down by the courts. However, that does not mean there are no issues in our southern border as many Democrats have claimed. It is accurate that apprehensions in the southwest border have declined since they reached a peak in the 80s and 90s. But according to U.S Customs and Border Security, a total of 521,090 apprehensions were made in the fiscal year 2018 along the southwest border. This is actually an increase from the 415,517 apprehensions made in the fiscal year 2017. The numbers suggest that it is very much still a pressing issue for our country and not the non-issue that many in the Democratic party claim it is.
Furthermore, it is amusing listening to politicians, who have backed every multi-billion dollar infrastructure project put in front of them, argue that the wall is wasteful under the false pretense of fiscal responsibility. The money is a non-issue, especially considering that President Trump has backed off of his original plan for a 2000-mile, 30-foot concrete wall along the entire U.S-Mexico Border. His current demand of $5.7 billion in funding for concentrated areas of steel slats, as requested by Border Patrol, equals one-tenth of one percent of the annual federal spending.
Next is the idea that a wall would be an efficient method of curbing illegal immigration. To that, I would simply like to point to common sense and suggest that perhaps a physical barrier along the border is a better alternative in curbing illegal immigration to having no barrier at all. In addition, if you analyze the data from Border Patrol, you can conclude that walls most definitely work
- In the fiscal year 1992, before a border wall was installed along the border of Tijuana and San Diego, there were approximately 560,000 apprehensions made in the are. By the fiscal year 2017, that number plummeted all the way down to 26,086.
- A barrier between Tucson, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico was put up in the year 2000. Apprehensions consequently declined from over 600,000 that year to just 38,657 in the fiscal year 2017.
- A barrier installed between the border of Yuma, Arizona and Los Algodones, Mexico in 2005 brought apprehensions down from 138,438 in the fiscal year 2005 to 12,847 in fiscal year 2017.
Even further proof of the effectiveness of a physical barrier is evident by what Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz explained to journalists during President Trump’s January 10 visit to Rio Grande Valley, Texas.
“Part of our area is covered with some fencing on our east side. That accounts for about 6 percent of our traffic. Where we have no fencing, over 90 percent of our traffic occurs in those areas,” explained Ortiz.
Finally, the suggestion that a border wall is immoral is the most ludicrous claim of them all. Unless you believe that the very existence of borders and sovereignty is immoral, why is more immoral to primitively dissuade people from illegally crossing our borders through the use of a physical barrier than to allow them to wonder on in No Man’s Land and apprehend them on arrival.
With the announcement of the National Emergency in reaction to the U.S. House of Representatives’ decision to not pass a bill in which would appropriate significant funds to border security, in the form of a wall, questions of constitutionality, morality, and whether or not the wall is a serious method of addressing border security, have been raised. The main issue at hand during the entirety of this battle, since December of 2018, has been whether or not a wall is a sufficient way to secure the United States’ southern border.
In response to the bill he so desperately wanted to get passed, not being passed, Donald Trump shut the government down in December, to which Democrats proposed a new bill with significant spending for border security, although not for a wall, or a “fence” or “barrier” as he has also called it. The President, of course, rejected this compromise, presenting one of his own—extending DACA for an extra three years, in which recipients would be able to stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation. The Democrats had a problem with this because a) they still really are adamantly against the wall, and b) extending DACA for three years is only temporary, in exchange for something so permanent.
The lack of compromise on either side is another issue. The real issue at hand is to what extent would a wall actually work? Border security is a tricky subject, because although the government as a whole wants to decrease the number of illegal immigrants entering the U.S., at the same time, people struggle to get visas, get their citizenships. As of current, it seems like the executive branch wants to stop all immigration into the United States (from Southern countries), period. By proposing a wall, but little action in regards to the availability of visas and citizenships, Donald Trump is largely shutting out Central and South America from the U.S.
A wall, or a physical barrier, or whichever term the President may use next, is very medieval. The idea is too simplistic to actually work. Proposals by other politicians include upped border security in the form of new technology. These proposals make more sense given the logistics of the border as of present, and given that we live in 2019. We can do far more humane ways of attacking border security, that is not literally shutting not only Mexico out, but the United States in. Like toddlers putting up pillow brocades in the forts, the United States’ executive government wants to build a literal wall, to try and keep people out.
Now, stepping back from whether or not the wall is a suitable means of border security for twenty-first century America, let’s talk money. After promising the United States a wall, paid for by Mexico, suddenly the issue has fallen to Congress, i.e. the funds are not coming from Mexico. Late 2018, Donald Trump asked for $5.7 Billion in order to build the wall along the southern border. The House rejected this proposal, thus the subsequent issues arose. Usable funds have been debated significantly, i.e. where this $5.7 Billion would come from. The fact of the matter is, with this much spending for a wall, that would not even cover the full cost of the wall, money from other departments, projects, areas, would have to be taken away. Or, the money could come from increased taxes. Neither of which are particularly favorable in the eyes of either democrats or republicans.
Without a specific, planned-out payment plan for the wall, Trump essentially set himself up for failure. Democrats, on the other hand, proposed, still, a significant figure in order to address border security. Instead of accepting what he could get (and yes, the same could be turned around for the democrats not accepting Trump’s counter offer) he decided to then counter-offer, and then declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress’ decision to not fund the wall to the extent asked.
The issue of to build, or not to build, the wall has far escaped the realm of border security and limiting illegal immigration, and now is more Trump’s grasping at straws to keep a campaign promise. If the real reasons for proposing the wall were border security, it would be sensible to accept a compromise in which extra funds are given to border security although not in the form of a wall. The wall has become a symbol of the Trump administration, and to fail at achieving his goal of building a wall, the Trump administration probably will not survive the 2020 election.