One of the most outspoken and controversial topics of Donald Trump’s election campaign and subsequent time in office has been his stance on border control. Most notably, there was much contention surrounding Trump’s goal of constructing a border wall between the US and Mexico. In the past, Democrats supported measures to create a physical barrier between the US and Mexican borders. However, the lines were clearly drawn when Trump made the proposal for his wall. While Democrats support border security, Trump’s border wall concept was not the route they were hoping for. Democratic views on a border wall are overall negative, though some Democrats have seen the issue as a point of negotiation for other matters, such as Trump’s battle against DACA and the Dreamers.
The 2006 Border Wall Proposal
One of the reasons that Democratic views on a border wall are so controversial is that in 2006, many Democrats supported a bill for 700 miles of border wall funding. Of the 64 Democrats that voted in favor of the measure, some were vehemently outspoken against Trump’s wall proposal. Senator Barbara Boxer, who has been critical of Trump’s wall proposal, spoke on the Senate floor in September 2006 where she defended building a fence on the border. “I don’t oppose building a fence where you need to do it where the border is porous. I just don’t have a problem with that,” Boxer said.
Former President Obama also supported the bill. Obama said in September 2006 that “the bill before us will certainly do some good. It will authorize some badly needed funding for better fences and better security along our borders and that should help stem some of the tide of illegal immigration in this country.” Hillary Clinton also spoke in favor of a wall in the past. As critical as she was of Trump’s wall, she stated the following as recently as 2015 about her votes in 2006: “Well, look I voted numerous times when I was a Senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in and I do think you have to control your borders.” Many Republicans look back on the 2006 vote and wonder why Democrats suddenly switched their views. However, it is arguably the difference in the size, and therefore cost, of the wall that is at the forefront of the problem. The 2006 proposal included a 700 mile wall, whereas Trump’s wall was closer to 2,000 miles. Trump also calls for a “wall,” where the 2006 proposal was for a fence. Again, here the major difference lies in projected cost differences between the two.
Trump’s Border Wall
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has used all of the following verbiage to describe Donald Trump’s border wall proposal: “Vacuous and expensive. Pointless. Ineffective. Medieval. A non-starter.” Schumer went as far as to mock Trump on the Senate floor for his demand that Congress front the money for a wall that the Mexicans would eventually reimburse us for. However, in January 2018, Schumer went to the White House. As a shutdown rapidly approached, “The president picked a number for the wall, and I accepted it,” Schumer recalled.
The acquiescence came with a price. In exchange for support of the wall, Democrats walked away with Trump’s support of permanent protections for the nearly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants covered under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They traded border security, at a high cost, for the safety of those that had already crossed the border. Later that evening Trump rejected the offer, and the Democrats then went on to rescind it once it had been rejected. However, many see the gesture as indicative of a shift in thinking among pro-immigration Democrats. The combination of increased risk of deportation and increasing demands for restrictions on legal immigration have caused a large shift among Democrats.
A Shift in Immigration Thinking
Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois is one of the House’s most outspoken Democrats on immigration reform, and she understands this shift, and believes it is essential. “Lives are at stake and the lives of Dreamers are more important to me than bricks,” Gutierrez said. “If advocates would reject any money for Trump’s wall in exchange for freedom and legalization and eventual citizenship for the Dreamers, I understand their choice, but for my part, I would lay bricks myself if I thought it would save the Dreamers. For me, the very real attacks on legal immigration are far greater threats than bricks and drones and technology on the border.”
This shift has also led Democratic views on a border wall to soften in general. As Trump has become less demanding, Democrats have begun to consider what type of barrier, and what size, they would be willing to agree to if push came to shove. The 2,000 mile wall that Democrats had feared would be a looming symbol of America turning inward on itself is becoming something closer to the 2006 plan; some new barriers, some new monitoring technology, and that is somewhat agreeable to Democrats, especially if they can garner support in other arenas in exchange for it.
“Trump himself has realized the wall does not mean bricks all along the border,” said Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “I think all parties understand the difference between a symbol that sells and substance that secures.” Frank Sharry, the executive director of America’s Voice, added to this thought, stating, “The wall has become a metaphor for a border-security package that includes fencing, that includes technology, that includes roads and infrastructure, that includes accountability measures.”
- Democrats Then Vs Now On Border Wall Funding – GOP
- How Democrats Stopped Worrying and Learned to Accept Trump’s Wall – The Atlantic
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