Analysis Human Rights

Trump’s Wall Sees Windfall and Many Don’t Know Why

Tina Vasquez

“At a time when migration from Mexico has been at zero ... and border communities are already experiencing militarization with little accountability and oversight, the question that begs to be asked is why do we need more resources at the border?”

It appears as if Mexico will not be paying for President Trump’s border wall.

The bill funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal year 2018 released by the House Appropriations Committee this week proposes providing federal immigration agencies with a significant financial boost, while possibly bringing a central tenet of Trump’s campaign to fruition: the continued construction of the border between the United States and Mexico.

The bill allocates $13.8 billion to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), including $1.6 billion for Trump’s wall, $100 million to hire 500 more Border Patrol (BP) agents, $131 million for new border technology, $106 million for aircraft and sensors, and $109 million for “non-intrusive inspection equipment.”

The budget includes an additional $619.7 million to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for fiscal year 2018, bringing total funding for ICE to $7 billion. That marks a 9.7 percent increase in ICE funding; President Trump requested a 29 percent increase.

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People who live and work in border communities assert none of this spending is necessary, while GOP lawmakers support the spending bill, but aren’t sure how funding can be allocated for federal immigration agencies.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA), for example, supported the spending bill, but said an additional $5 billion should be allotted for the wall, taken from federal funding for Planned Parenthood and food assistance for families with low incomes.

“I would find half of a billion dollars of that right out of Planned Parenthood’s budget,” King told the conservative Washington Examiner. “And the rest of it could come out of food stamps and the entitlements that are being spread out for people that haven’t worked in three generations.”

Planned Parenthood responded to King, referring to his statement as “nonsensical.”

“Planned Parenthood receives federal funding the same way as every other hospital or community health care provider: through Medicaid reimbursements for specific services provided, including birth control and cancer screenings,” Erica Sackin, a Planned Parenthood spokesperson, said in a statement. There is no line item in the federal budget for Planned Parenthood, instead the organization relies on Medicaid reimbursement for its funding through the federal government.

The organization said that “harsh immigration enforcement policies,” including Trump’s wall, “sow fear in immigrant communities,” hindering them from accessing care. Planned Parenthood asserted that the health-care organization serves everyone, regardless of immigration status, while clarifying that federal funding is not used for abortion care.

 Since the 1976 Hyde Amendment, federal dollars have been prohibited from funding abortion except in instances where continuing the pregnancy will endanger the life of the woman or when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest,” the organization’s statement read.

“Nonsensical” assertions aside, Vicki Gaubeca, director of the Regional Center for Border Rights for the ACLU of New Mexico, told Rewire that her real concern is that politicians continue making decisions about what is needed at the border without consulting border communities.

“At a time when migration from Mexico has been at zero, apprehensions at the border are going down, and border communities are already experiencing militarization with little accountability and oversight, the question that begs to be asked is why do we need more resources at the border?” Gaubeca said.

Funneling large sums of money and resources into “border security” is not a Trump phenomenon and has been a move applauded by both Republicans and Democrats.

President Obama in 2010 signed a $600 million bill to acquire two aerial surveillance drones and hire 1,500 Border Patrol agents and law enforcement officials along the country’s southern border. “The bill was quickly passed by Congress in a rare display of bipartisanship,” Democracy Now reported at the time.

Obama spent the entirety of his presidency reinforcing the border in ways Trump is only attempting to bolster under his proposals.

During his Arizona immigration policy speech on August 31, 2016, Trump said he would use “the best technology, including above- and below-ground sensors,” towers, and aerial surveillance. This was already being done—and as Rewire reported, no administration has had more border security than Obama’s.

The resources that DHS dedicated to security at the U.S.-Mexico border were at an all-time high, according to the Obama administration website. There were 3,000 additional Border Patrol agents along the southwest border, and border fencing, unmanned aircraft surveillance systems, and ground surveillance systems more than doubled since 2008.

Even when President Obama announced an expansion to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects undocumented immigrants who meet specific requirements from deportation for two years and allows them to legally work in the United States, his executive action also included strengthening border security to “fundamentally alter” the way resources are marshaled to the border.

Maureen Meyer, senior associate for Mexico and migrant rights for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), told Rewire that both political parties are “perfectly comfortable” further funding increased border enforcement, but it’s to the “great detriment” of border communities.

“The Obama administration significantly invested in increased militarization at the border, including infrastructure and additional agents,” Meyer said. “I think the reason was that if he just secured the border enough or enough to appease Republicans, he could get immigration reform passed. It didn’t happen, and the same calculus is happening today.”

Back in May when the budget was first proposed, Democrats pushed back against Trump’s wall funding, but were not opposed to increased border enforcement. “That’s because increased enforcement at the border responds well with voters,” Meyer said.

Gaubeca said that the first real militarization of the border began after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when an additional 652 miles of the border was constructed, which included fences 20-feet high and three layers deep in some areas. In the years since, the ACLU director said, Border Patrol has become a larger presence, with ten agents per mile.

“Already, before Trump’s hiring surge, you can line up Border Patrol agents from San Diego [California] to Brownsville [Texas] and they could all see each other,” she said. “These agents are alreadyand have beenusing technology and surveillance inherited from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The border is heavily militarized. Doing more of the same doesn’t make any sense.”

Trump was largely elected because of his anti-immigrant rhetoric and promises to crackdown on those in the country without authorization. The Trump voters who gleefully chanted “build the wall” at campaign rallies may not realize that Trump’s proposed expansion of the existing border wall will also hurt U.S. citizens.

The ACLU has referred to the borderlands as a “Constitution-free zone” because of how regularly CBP and BP are accused of violating civil liberties. Fifteen million people live at the U.S./Mexico border, many of whom are citizens and have lived in the area for generations. According to Gaubeca, Latinos in the area who are U.S. citizens routinely suffer racial profiling. Border Patrol also reportedly causes property damage and illegally trespasses on private property.

“What many people may also not realize is that there are checkpoints far away from the actual, physical border. One hundred miles inland, American citizens taking their kids to school, going to the doctor, or just going to work must drive through checkpoints within the United States,” Gaubeca said.

The theory behind these checkpoints is that they act as a secondary line of defense and are for immigration enforcement-related purposes, but the ACLU director pointed out that data show less than 2 percent of arrests that happen at these checkpoints are for people in the United States without authorization.

“You basically have the harassment of people just trying to go about their daily lives and most of the arrests that happen at these checkpoints are the arrests of American citizens for small quantities of drugs, including marijuana.”

Trump’s recent anti-immigrant executive orders expanded the authority of agencies like CBP and BP. The 100-mile zone, as it was known, now includes 100 air miles and would include the perimeter of the country. This means U. S. citizens in major cities like Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles could endure checkpoints if the Trump administration deemed it necessary for immigration enforcement purposes.

Gaubeca said nothing about the border is as easy as Trump has made it seem, whether it’s carrying out immigration enforcement or continuing to expand the physical barrier. People in border communities already deal with harsh realities, she said, and under Trump, Gaubeca fears that things will get worse and the border will become more militarized.

This was echoed by Meyer, who said additional security resources simply aren’t needed at the border.

“We’ve done a great deal of analysis and I can confidently say there is no security crisis at the border,” Meyer said. “A majority crossing the border today are seeking asylum. One side may be arguing that border security is needed while the other is arguing for a wall, but it’s the same argument and it’s futile because none of it proposes reform or addresses why people migrate.”

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