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Immigration 101: Why the Border Wall is a Terrible Idea

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The day after Trump said he was open to a path to citizenship for Dreamers, the Trump Administration proposed immigration legislation that asked Dreamers to make an unacceptable trade. In return for protections for immigrant youth, the Trump Administration is demanding drastic cuts to family-based migration and the cancellation of the diversity visa lottery program — in addition to billions in funding for border security and the border wall.

Trump’s border wall proposal from San Diego to Brownsville is a nonstarter for Democrats that Republican budget hawks also oppose. In January, the Trump Administration submitted a funding request to Congress requesting $18 billion for a nearly 1000-mile border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. About 900 miles of the 2,000-mile border with Mexico will be more of a fence. The Texas Rio Grande Valley area is the Border Patrol’s highest priority.

Sharp decline in border crossings

Border crossing rates have gone down for twenty straight years, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), part of a long-term trend that started long before Trump came into office.

Often overlooked are the roughly 40 percent of the 11 undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. who became undocumented by overstaying their visas.

The decades-long downward trend in border crossings is one that only casts more doubt on the wisdom of building a border wall, said Doris Meissner, senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, to the Washington Post.

As U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) told the Texas Tribune, a record amount of $19.5 billion is already spent each year on border security “at a time that it has never been safer”:

Record-low levels of northbound apprehensions, El Paso is the safest city in the country, and not a single terrorist or terror plot that has used our connection with Mexico to do us harm. Irrational, obsessive focus on the border will prevent us from stopping threats where they really exist and will waste precious resources that are needed elsewhere.

Despite the decreased border arrests, the Trump Administration maintains there are still substantial threats at the border requiring a physical barrier, beefed-up manpower, and technology.

Texas border wall two-step

None of the 38 Texas Congressional Republicans in Texas offered a complete endorsement of the entire border wall plan, according to a recent Texas Tribune survey. Some of their constituents are at risk of having their private lands seized, which could have a negative ripple effect on future re-election campaigns. (To find out where each Texan in Congress stands on Trump’s border wall, see here.)

One-third of the land needed for the border wall is owned by the federal government or Native American tribes. The rest of the land along the U.S.-Mexico border is owned by different states and private property owners. The federal government would need to confiscate land — some of it passed along for generations, and some of it bestowed in the 1700s by Spanish land grants, before Texas even became a U.S. state.

Stated U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX):

Building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is a bad idea. It would stifle economic activity and drain money that’s badly needed to create jobs, fund schools, and repair beaten-up roads. The future of border security lies in manpower and smart technology, not medieval defenses.

The latest CBS News poll shows some 6 in 10 Americans oppose the construction of a border wall.

Stated U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX), who penned an infamously scathing letter to Trump slamming the border wall when Trump was still a candidate:

The border wall is a physical representation of the cultural and racial insults President Trump has spewed since his campaign announcement. A physical wall is also a wasteful expenditure of taxpayer dollars, endangers wildlife, stomps on property rights of private landowners, and isolates our partner, Mexico. Mr. Trump, you’re a racist and you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass.

Civil liberties and environmental concerns

To build the border wall, the Trump Administration is seeking waivers and new authority to acquire land along the U.S.-Mexico border, which is home to one of the most biodiverse areas in North America. This proposal has upset activists who claim it will violate civil liberties and endanger the environment, devastate wildlife habitats, and cut off access to the river.  

The impacts of the border fence on wildlife still are not fully understood because Congress allowed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to ignore all environmental laws that would have required compliance with the Endangered Species Act or other environmental laws, to fully study how the border wall would affect wildlife. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services also confirmed DHS is not studying the environmental impacts of the proposed border wall and that over 100 endangered species may be impacted by construction, according to its report.

Of particular concern to the community is the crown jewel of the refuge system the 2,088-acre Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge containing 400 bird species and 300 butterfly species. Tourism infuses $463 million into the local economy and sustains 6,600 jobs, according to a 2011 Texas A&M University study.

“Two things will happen when [the wall is] built: it will change the aesthetics of the place,” said a local innkeeper whose business would be upended by the wall. “The other is that people will hear the place has been destroyed, which may or may not be true, but it will reduce tourism and affect the income of everyone in the Valley, including me.”

Eminent domain: “This is a battle”

Texas shares 1,254 miles of its border with Mexico. The majority of the Rio Grande Valley land near the border is privately owned. In order to build the wall on top of it, Trump plans to hire 20 attorneys to seize the land using eminent domain, meaning ranchers, homeowners and taxpayers would be some of the real losers of the border wall.

The Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause states “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” However, nothing in that provision expressly gives Congress the power of eminent domain, which allows the government to acquire privately owned land if it’s for public use.

On this subject, Trump is publicly opposed by a number of lawmakers from his own party — conservatives who have traditionally opposed eminent domain.

The freedom to own and protect one’s private property is foundational to our country. Congress must fight to protect the private property rights of Americans and reform the use and abuse of eminent domain,” stated U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

Elected officials have also expressed concern that as required through eminent domain total cost estimates of land acquisition or subsequent litigation costs with landowners have not been provided.

Said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose Laredo district includes nearly 300 miles of the border with Mexico:

Here in Texas, we take the concept of private property very seriously….this is a battle. In Texas, we have a long tradition of private property rights. Any time big government starts using eminent domain and taking land — especially the valuable part, access to water — then it becomes a battle cry. Lawsuits will definitely be coming in.

In a foreshadowing of what’s to come, following are alarming examples of paltry eminent domain offers to generational property landowners:

Said a rancher and farmer who has owned 1,300 acres of Texas land since 1750:

I don’t think Trump understands the big picture. Are they going to cut us from our family history? We were here before the United States was the United States. We shed our blood, our tears and our sweat long before Washington, D.C., was the capital. For someone to come around and say, ‘we’re going to build a wall right here on your land’, that’s a slap in the face.

Refusing to go down without a fight, the Texas Civil Rights Project launched a border wall litigation campaign last year to help low-income Texans battle through the complicated and looming eminent domain process with DHS. Unaware of their right to a jury trial to determine fair compensation, many people signed waivers without challenging the government offer.

As Efrén Olivares, the Texas Civil Rights Project’s racial and economic justice director, told the Texas Tribune:

Under the rules governing federal condemnation actions, a landowner who disagrees with the amount offered by the government has the right to request a jury trial. Our team at the Texas Civil Rights Project is ready to represent landowners, as well as train and deploy legal volunteers to ensure that all landowners have the representation and respect they deserve.


U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the first Black woman ever elected to office in Dallas, the first nurse elected to Congress, and who has represented a majority African-American and Latino district for 13 years, said in a statement to the Texas Tribune:

If he wants to stop the influx of undocumented immigrants through our southern border . . . Trump should focus on comprehensive immigration reform, not building another wall. We already have walls on the southern border. That would be a massive waste of our country’s money and resources while still not fixing the problem. We must focus on bringing those undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and have a complete and comprehensive reform of our immigration system.