Brief #62—Immigration

Policy Summary
Before President Trump took office there were 654 miles of barrier; 354 miles to block individuals walking across the border and 300 miles of anti-vehicle fencing that cost roughly $7 Billion during the Bush Administration. Throughout Trump’s campaign he promised to build a wall along the entire 2,000 mile US Southern border, but later clarified that in reality it would only cover half of that due to mountains and rivers already in place. However, since taking office there has been zero construction on this notorious wall; and thus the current (and longest ever government shutdown in American history) government shutdown standoff has ensued. President Trump pledges that his wall is necessary to combat the “humanitarian and security crisis” Americans face at the border – and that the appropriate funding must be provided. In reality, there are only estimates on how much Trump’s wall would cost taxpayers and the government, no one knows exactly its price. According to Customs and Border Patrol, it is $6.5 Million per mile on average and thus could range from $12 Billion to $70 Billion to implement. Originally Trump wanted concrete, but is now talking about steel so border agents could see through the “artistically designed steel slats.” Despite what seemed to be an overwhelming amount of support for Trump’s wall during his campaign, in a recent poll, roughly 40% of voters actually support it still.

In practice, Trump needs more than just funding to execute his grand plan and begin construction. In addition to funds, he needs the power to seize property from unwilling owners through the use of eminent domain since less than 30% of the necessary land is actually owned by the federal government (yes, the remaining 70% is belongs to private owners, state governments, and Native American tribes). Therefore, construction and especially legal battles could drag on for years. If Trump were to use eminent domain, he would be setting a very dangerous precedent and threaten the property rights of thousands of Americans for generations (or presidential administrations) to come.

However President Trump has steadfastly refused to give up on his wall  First he began  threatening to use his emergency powers  to build the wall without Congressional approval. This would involve diverting military funds and seizing private property without congressional authorization. Trump’s Advisors warned that the government would face endless legal challenges if Trump were to do that.

At the end of December President vetoed  an immigration  bill signed by both branches of Congress because it did not contain funding for his wall. The shutdown lasted 35 days, the longest shutdown in government history. It caused untold harm to federal workers across the country and had a negative impact on the economy. On January 25th facing mounting pressure from many different parts of the country the President was forced to reopen the government, even though funds still have not been allocated to build his wall.

Policy Analysis
To prove the wall is necessary, Trump has cited drugs and illegal border crossings as the main reasons the wall is desired. He has claimed 90% of heroin comes across the US Southern border and that a wall would help the overall war on drugs. In 2017, just under 40% of heroin seizures were at the US-Mexico border and most of it is smuggled through legal ports of entry hidden in privately owned vehicles mixed with other goods. President Trump and particularly his xenophobic support base consider illegal crossings at the border to be a wildly out of control issue that undermines American customs, values, and presents a burden on the population. In Trump’s first year in office the US saw the lowest number of migrants since 1971 and the actual number of illegal border crossings has been on an overall decline since 2000. Most illegal immigration is from visa “overstayers” of which Canadians were shockingly the largest group in 2018 – not the “terrorists” among the Migrant Caravan.

No one can really predict the future to gauge if the wall would truly divide Mexico and the US – physically or metaphorically – but it has definitely divided America and serves as a symbol of attitudes towards demographic, cultural and economic change. In a recent poll, views on the wall have heavily correlated with attitudes towards race relations in the US.

Currently, the Senate took 2 key votes on January 24 on the ongoing government shutdown and Trump’s wall. Both failed to reach a solid conclusion, but Trump has agreed to re-open the government for 3 weeks before attempting again to reach a consensus.

In many regards, Trump’s wall serves as a symbol of exclusion and isolation, but social orders built on fear, hatred and injustice are bound to fall. Historically, walls were built to protect a city from attack, but today they serve little military purpose as planes/missiles can fly over them and a tank could smash through. Ultimately, fear is the driving force in constructing such a wall, and a related rise in nationalism in response to globalization, racism, threat of terrorism, etc. Such walls have failed in the past – or failed to serve their intended purposes – such as the Berlin Wall during the Cold War, France’s Maginot line in WWII, the Great Wall of China, and even the US’s barrier fences in the 1990s under President Clinton. People will go around, under, or overwhelm the wall – or even in the case of drugs, be smuggled through legal points of entry.

US immigration laws have been rooted in racism and exclusion for centuries. The first major one being the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was for all people of color in practice; followed by the National Origins Act of 1924 that allowed white, northern and western Europeans to migrate to the US while limiting everyone else. The latter led to the establishment of  the Border Patrol. Thus the entire concept of policing the US border has been founded upon racial exclusion and xenophobic tendencies.

Resistance Resources

  • Opposition – No Border Walls: An resource that provides cities, states and coalitions of organizations that have taken a stance against Trump’s wall.
  • Stop Trump’s Wall: a non-profit that opposes Trump’s wall that utilizes video submissions explaining why his wall is ineffective, not a good idea, bad for the environment, etc.
  • Sierra Club: a grassroots environmental organization that has sued the US government in opposition of the wall.

This Brief was authored by Kathryn Baron. For inquiries, suggestions or comments email

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