Truths about the Border Wall… and a Possible Solution to the Conflict in Congress

A “deal” was reached between President Trump and the Democrat leadership on Friday, January 25, 2019 which re-opened our government for a short three-week period to give time for both sides to reach an agreement regarding border security, primarily along the U.S. – Mexican border. At the time of this writing, seventeen members of Congress are in discussions aimed at reaching a bill that President Trump would sign.  This is the good news. I do not believe that government shutdowns (this past one, but also in general) should be used as bargaining chips…ever.

Now the bad news. I am not very optimistic that the congressional discussions will be successful. Much of the negotiation hinges on the construction of a possible wall (or fence) to reduce illegal crossings. Both sides have dug in their heels and only grudgingly have shown any movement towards a consensus in the middle. During his campaign, Trump announced that he would build a magnificent concrete wall from sea to shining sea (he was actually insinuating that the wall would stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico) and that the Mexican government would pay for the wall. He has now tried to walk that back and claims that the wall would be paid for by increased revenue to U.S. citizens through the new trade agreement between Mexico, the United States, and Canada.[1] He has also acknowledged that in some sections it would be a concrete wall, but in other parts a metal fence, and in certain areas a wall would be neither necessary nor feasible due to the geography (mountains, lakes, deserts, etc.) On the other hand, many Democrats, including Speaker of the House Pelosi, have said that they would not give even a penny for a border wall. They argue that funds authorized last year have not been used to construct such a wall. They also claim that greater border security would be achieved by using more modern means such as camera surveillance, drones, more border patrol personnel, a larger number of immigration judges, etc. rather than a physical wall that could be climbed over or dug under. They also claim that more illegal drugs are being smuggled into the country through official ports of entry or via boats that land on the coasts than across unfenced borderlands. Therefore, according to the Democrats, additional border walls would not deter that kind of smuggling of drugs.

The truth of the matter is that large sections of the 1933 mile border already have a fence or wall. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 (also known as H.R. 6061) was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2006. It provided the authorization and partial funding for the construction of 700 miles of walls/fences/barriers along the border with Mexico.  President Bush affirmed that “This bill will help protect the American people. This bill will make our borders more secure. It is an important step toward immigration reform.” In fact, 654 miles of fencing/wall were constructed. I have been to the border many times and have seen and touched that wall. It partially fulfilled its goals by making it harder for undocumented immigrants to enter the United States. Nevertheless, some immigrants have climbed over the wall, drug traffickers have dug tunnels under the wall, and many others have made their crossings through the more inhospitable, unfenced areas.[2]

The existence of such a wall might suggest a way forward for the discussions that are taking place. Here are some of the options, listed in degree of probability of actually taking place.

  1. The stubborn option – Speaker Pelosi has repeatedly affirmed that she would not give a penny for a wall. President Trump has also stated over and over agan that he would veto any bill unless it had sufficient funding for a wall. If they both hold their ground, there will be a standoff. Although it is possible that Congress could vote for no wall funding with such a majority that it could override a Trump veto, this is unlikely, because it would leave Trump extremely vulnerable and without the support of his party on his key issue. If the Democrats approve a bill with no funding for a wall, it is more likely that President Trump will declare that the construction of a border wall is a “national emergency” and look to re-channel other funds to the project, rather than push towards another governmental shutdown. Such a “national emergency” would immediately be challenged in the court, and would probably be ruled as unconstitutional, but Trump would be able to tell his supporters that he tried mightily to fulfill his campaign promise.
  2. The minimalist option – This approach acknowledges the existence of the current 654 mile wall as an essential ingredient of border security. It is possible that a compromise could take place where both sides agree on a comprehensive security legislation that includes a lot of funds for additional ICE officers, greater surveillance, drones, cameras, etc. AND some funding for “enhanced fencing”.[3] The language utilized is very important. It needs to be vague enough so that both sides can claim victory and satisfy their bases. Pelosi needs to communicate that she gave no money for a “wall” and Trump needs to be able to say that funding was given for “barrier construction”.
  3. The immigration reform approach – This option would strive to deal thoroughly with all of the major issues of immigration, including border security, the Dreamers (DACA), and a pathway to legality (citizenship or legal work permits) for the ten million undocumented immigrants in the country. Democrats “may” be willing to authorize funding for a border wall/fence if Trump and the Republicans make significant concessions on these important immigration issues. I doubt that two weeks is sufficient time to reach a consensus on comprehensive immigration reform. This is a debate that needs to happen in the not too distant future. I personally subscribe to the contents of a comprehensive immigration reform as developed by the Evangelical Immigration Table at http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/.

Whatever happens over the next two weeks, honest debate over the wall and immigration will continue for many years. May we have the courage to listen to each other as we seek a just consensus.


[1] During the campaign, Trump claimed that the Mexican government would pay for the wall with a check. Those who believed such a promise are, in my opinion, quite naïve. Immediately, high level Mexican leaders repudiated such an idea.

[2] According to the Pew Center, the highest number of undocumented immigrants in the United States was 12. 2 million in 2007. By 2016, that number has dropped to 10.7 million. Of course, there are many “push and pull” factors that affect immigration, but the construction of the wall has probably had some influence reducing the number of illegal entries. Others have raised ethical concerns about the existence of that wall. By pushing undocumented immigrants to cross over in unfenced areas (mostly deserts), more people have died in their attempts to cross over. See https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/2016-u-s-saw-lowest-level-undocumented-immigrants-over-decade-n940286

[3] Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi mentioned on January 31 that she could agree to extension and enhancement of the “Normandy” type fencing that currently covers some miles of the border. See https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/congress/pelosi-suggests-normandy-fence-for-the-border-but-not-a-wall ttps:�����

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