Where to begin with Trump’s breathless hysterics over Central American refugees and the horrors of immigration? Should we rail against the constant ignorant tweets, the execrable midterm campaign speeches, or his cynical resolve to manufacture crisis at the border? How about child separation, the use of tear gas on the hordes assembled in front of clogged points of entry, and the Army still sitting there off to the side, costing millions and doing (thankfully) nothing? Which rankles the most? Which is the best fodder for a screed that can’t possibly be sustained long enough to tackle them all, there being limits to the outraged energy of all those who would rant, even your faithful correspondent?
Well, for my dough, it’s The Wall. The Wall provides the perfect metaphor for all of it, being both heartless in its conception and almost hilariously impractical in its details. What could be more emblematic of Trump’s bigoted, rabble-rousing opposition to the influx of the horrid brown people than the Wall? What could be more dear to the Donald’s Grinch-like shrivelled heart?
This is how the Republican base hears Trump: Blah blah blah WALL. Blah WALL blah blah WALL. They just eat it with a spoon. Trump, ever the crowd pleaser, never shuts up about his fucking Wall, and worse, he can’t even keep his story straight. He’s stopped claiming that Mexico is going to pay for it (and his base is letting him skate on that, despite how central that silly boast was to his campaign platform), but he can’t seem to figure out whether it’s already under construction, or still just a bunch of prototypes bleaching in the California sun, or whether he has the money to build it, or can’t finance the thing because the perfidious Democrats won’t sanction the funds. The other night he told one of his crowds that he’d secured three increments of $1.6 billion, and construction was well underway; now he’s saying he doesn’t have the money, and had better see it in the next spending bill or he’ll shut down the government. The sums of money he either has or doesn’t have fluctuate, as does the state of construction. This is Donald last July:
We’ve started the wall. Started up in San Diego and other places. It’s under construction with $1.6 billion dollars, but we’re going to ask for an increase in wall spending so we can finish it quicker.
This is a tweet he sent out last March:
Here he was just a couple of weeks ago:
… Including the building of the wall, which we’ve already started. $1.6 billion spent last year, $1.6 billion this year. We have another $1.6 [billion] that will be coming but we want to build it one time.
Today, he’s chafing again at the lack of funding, and promising a government shut-down if he doesn’t see it soon. He’s threatened this before, and backed down, complaining bitterly all the way home, but this isn’t just an empty threat. He could do it, if he has the balls, and it wouldn’t be pretty. While Congress is now in its post-midterm “lame duck” session, it still has a lot of important work to do, including the passage of seven spending bills to fund multiple government agencies, among them the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the State Department. Trump could veto all of them when they land on his desk, and it’s doubtful the Democrats and Republicans could cooperate sufficiently to override those vetoes with the requisite 2/3 majorities.
It could be quite the Holiday shit show.
The hard thing, as one watches all this – the damned near impossible thing – is keeping a firm grasp on the true scope of the immigration problem, the nature of the wall that’s proposed as a solution, how much of that wall is actually being built, and how much money has already been authorized for that purpose. Even if you’re enough of a Gulla-Bull to believe Trump’s lies, which lies should you buy into?
I’ll attempt a summary.
The Problem: Several Central American countries, particularly Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, have become lawless shit-holes within which a kid growing up is liable, depending upon gender, to be forced either into violent gangs or the sex trade – and of course both boys and girls can simply be killed outright. This is why women and children are forming into caravans and trudging barefoot over blistering tarmac, rocks, and hot sand to reach distant America. It’s about 3,000 miles from Managua to San Diego, and they know what awaits them at Trump’s border, but they don’t care. They can’t. Anything, anything at all, is better than staying put. So they come.
Yet, despite everything Trump does to make it look like one, there is no crisis. On the contrary, the Department of Homeland security reports that illegal border crossings are at a 46-year low, and the border is, in fact, under very tight control:
Moreover, the number of illegal immigrant workers in the United States is shrinking, and has been for over a decade. Yes, more come every year, but a greater number are leaving, creating a net outflow that the proposed border wall might actually impede. This is from Politifact:
There are no perfect statistics when it comes to illegal immigration — it’s inherently impossible to track accurately. But U.S. and Mexican government data analyzed by the Pew Research Center shows the immigration trend reversed in the last decade.
The estimated number of Mexicans in the United States illegally rose steadily for many years, from 2.9 million in 1995 to a peak of 6.9 million in 2007. But the number began dropping in 2008 and has fallen more since, reaching 5.8 million in 2014, the latest year for which Pew analyzed data.
It looks so horrible on TV because Trump announced that asylum seekers will only be considered if they attempt to get into the U.S. through established points of entry. This is actually illegal, and his executive order to that effect has been struck down in the courts; but migrants, who heard Trump loud and clear, and know that the law is one thing, and what the folks in border enforcement actually do is another, are concentrating at a few points of entry instead of trickling in all along the border. Bottlenecks inevitably grow, and Trump has thrown gas on the fire with a policy to accept no more than a few hundred applicants each day, in a program dubbed “metering”, leaving the migrants stranded at the border for what could well be months at a time. Desperate, they try to storm their way in, and we get scenes like the one we saw a couple of days ago, with women and little kids being beat back with tear gas.
There are better ways of handling this. It wasn’t that long ago that the processing of even greater numbers of asylum seekers was going relatively smoothly, with short wait times to get in, and applicants showing up for their asylum hearings when the time came. Trump lies about this incessantly, but the system was working pretty well by the end of the Obama administration. Not perfectly, to be sure. But pretty well. Better, certainly, than this.
The immigration problem is, in short, largely a fiction invented by Trump to rile up his base and serve his political needs. In the process, he’s created a real crisis – a humanitarian one, arising from the mistreatment of asylum-seekers.
The Proposed Wall: What, exactly, would Trump’s wall look like, where would it run, and how much would it cost? Say, those are good questions! As a start, a set of eight prototype wall sections was quite famously put on display just outside of San Diego last year, and apparently they’ve undergone some testing and evaluation, though I can’t find anything about a formal selection being made. They all look tall and forbidding, with some uglier than others:
Fine, but is the proposal really to lay sections like this across the entire 2,000 mile-long border, over hill, dale, empty scrubland, rocky highlands, and even down the banks of over 1,000 miles of the Rio Grande? Yes, sort of, but plans might have to change once they got going. There might have to be a mixture of approaches, and in fact there already are – the border is already protected by hundreds of miles of fences, erected where appropriate, and it was pictures of those fences that Trump attached to the tweet copied above.
This is what you’ll see on the border south of San Diego, for example:
To date, the U.S. has already spent about 6 billion on such fencing. However, the barrier isn’t continuous, and not as robust as it could be, if all the stops were pulled out. If we imagine Trump’s wall being erected exactly as he envisions it, we’d see something more forbidding, about like this:
Presumably, the parts that skirt the Rio Grande would be placed on the US side, since Mexico actually has jurisdiction over half of the river. America might then be effectively ceding its own jurisdiction over the other half. I confess I’m not clear on how that would work.
Is this even possible? Technically yes, probably. I found a good third party professional engineering analysis on YouTube:
A lot of ranchers and other landowners vehemently oppose it, and it would likely create a great many arbitrary geographical oddities as it cut across previously open country, and probably affect wildlife too, but it could be done.
But what would it cost? Aye, there’s the rub, but not so big a rub. Reasonable estimates range from 15-25 billion dollars, so you have to figure 35 billion when all’s said and done – a lot of money, yes, but easily within America’s means. Remember, they spend 700 billion a year on the Department of Defence, and similar sums on both Medicaid and Social Security. Sometimes it’s hard to wrap your mind around the vastness of America’s resources. They could build half a dozen Trumpian Walls and barely break a sweat.
It’s neither money nor technical hurdles that make the wall unlikely. It’s the sheer, witless lack of any real rationale for it.
How’s it going so far? No matter what Trump says, not so much as a foot of the new wall has been constructed, and not so much as a buck has been allocated to get the project going. The $1.6 billion figure that Trump likes to throw around, often in multiples of two or three, was set aside for repair and refurbishment of the existing fencing. This is why Donald is getting so stroppy. His signature campaign promise is going nowhere.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Congress throws Trump some sort of bone to quell his veto threats, perhaps in the form of more repairs to existing fences, or more border patrol agents, but it remains to be seen whether the Democrats in the House will allow any work to begin on the wall proper. In the past, they’ve indicated they might be prepared to trade wall funding for progress on the DACA front, but one wonders if they’re any longer in the mood to play into Trump’s false border crisis narrative. There simply is no need for the Trump Wall, none at all, and it’s likely that in just a few years people will look back upon the hard facts of our present situation and wonder what all the hysteria was about.
Behind all of it, sadly, is a simple truth that goes unspoken, despite having been proved, time and again: hundreds of thousands of strong young people with the will to walk thousands of miles for the prospect of a better life in your country are not a problem. They’re a golden opportunity. They don’t bring gangs, crime, drugs and dread disease with them. They bring guts, and energy, and a steadfast determination to succeed. The overwhelming majority will contribute great things to American life and the American economy, given half a chance, because America thrives on diversity, and the economy isn’t the zero-sum game that demagogues like Trump make it out to be. When they arrive, and start doing the shitty jobs that Americans won’t do, they create economic demand for food, housing, consumer goods, and all manner of economic commodities. Economic demand creates jobs. Given a chance to work legally, they also pay taxes. They commit very little crime, significantly less than other Americans do, and they raise lots of kids to become full-fledged, English-speaking, Pledge of Allegiance-taking, Flag-waving, military-serving, hard working Americans. That’s not just heartening. It’s one of the ways you remain a superpower, something Americans used to understand. The formula is simple: in times of humanitarian crisis abroad, you seize the opportunity to skim off the very cream of foreign populations and make them your own. It isn’t altruism. It’s pure self-interest. Sometimes, it’s a geopolitical master stroke.
Anybody who doubts this should look into what became of the Vietnamese Boat People, whose mass arrival on U.S. shores, beginning in the late 1970s, was greeted with similar dismay and hostility.
It’s a lazy cliché, no doubt, to bring this up, but it’s also powerfully true, and ought to be moving to true flag-waving patriots: the poem at the base of the statue says “Give me your tired, your hungry, your huddled masses longing to breathe free”. Well there they stand, pressed up against the fence at Tijuana. Trump’s policy, which amounts to nothing more than telling them all to drop dead, isn’t just cruel, and isn’t just a betrayal of everything America still pretends to stand for. It’s a waste of the world’s most precious resource, a gold mine just sitting there for the taking. I wish somebody among the politicians who oppose Trump would start saying so to the American people.