The government shutdown taking place in the United States has now entered unprecedented territory. As the longest shutdown in the history of the country, many are beginning to wonder whether the end is in sight yet most are pessimistic about those prospects given the stakes at hand and the reasons behind the shutdown.
As President Donald Trump and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives face off over Trump’s proposed border wall, the nation’s federal employees impacted by the shutdown continue living with uncertainty and without paychecks.
Central to Trump’s promises during the 2016 presidential campaign, now in the second half of his first term as President of the United States, Trump has still not completed the vaunted wall that was so key to his appeal among some of his base.
Now, with the 2020 elections right around the corner, Trump is pursuing his plan to construct a physical barrier between the United States and Mexico with renewed vigor but with the challenge of overcoming a Democratic House unwilling to give him the money to build this wall.
This series of events has brought us to the present time in which the Trump administration is hinting that they might bypass the US Congress entirely and build a wall using funds from the Pentagon’s budget after the declaration of a national state of emergency.
But why would building a border wall necessitate a state of emergency and why wouldn’t the Democratic House recognize such an emergency if it truly existed?
Here we have the crux of the current shutdown: To what extent each political party views the immigration situation at the border between Mexico and the United States as an emergency – or even a threat to national security.
For their part, the Trump administration is pushing the argument that the border situation is not only a crisis, but a threat to national security. Using old lines resurrected from Trump’s 2016 campaign, the administration is pushing the idea that the immigrants coming across the border are largely criminals or even terrorists bent on causing havoc in the United States.
Latching on to any and every negative news story that involves illegal immigrants, the Trump administration even cited the murder of immigrant cop Ronil Singh by an illegal immigrant in Stanislaus County shortly after Christmas as an example of the types of evil he was fighting with his wall.
Yet the administration has gone even further, conflating illegal immigration with drug cartels, Middle Eastern terrorist groups, and every other social ill that could be tangentially related.
Pushing this narrative, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders even told the press that some 4,000 terrorists had crossed the border illegally into the United States using Mexico as a point of entry. But this number was quickly debunked by administration officials and outsiders alike.
Commissioner of United States Customs and Border Protection from 2006 until 2009 under then-President George W. Bush, W. Ralph Basham had this to say of the 4,000 figure, “The idea that you have that many terrorists flooding across the border when you have all of these dedicated agents focused on stopping that kind of activity is ridiculous.”
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen wrote in a message on Twitter: “The threat is real…The number of terror-watchlisted encountered at our Southern Border has increased over the last two years. The exact number is sensitive and details about these cases are extremely sensitive”
Naturally, the Democratic House which is so key to Trump’s funding for the border wall rejects his arguments entirely. Some do so on the basis that a physical border wall is a patently absurd idea while others do so on more ideological grounds such as rejecting Trump’s claims about immigrants and the crisis being a national security crisis instead of a humanitarian one.
So what is actually going on down at the border?
To be sure, there are real problems with immigration – as is acknowledged by both past administrations as well as the present one – but the current deadlock seems to be a rare combination of ideological opposition and political opportunism.
There is little reason to take the Trump administration’s outlandish claims about illegal immigration, terrorism, and drug cartels seriously because he is conflating several separate issues into one.
As Commissioner Basham points out to the New York Times, there are vast bureaucracies that deal with terrorists – particularly those from the MIddle East.
The idea that these groups would use Mexico as a point of entry is possible but unlikely. Building a wall specifically to stop this occurrence is short sighted because terrorist groups tend to be sophisticated and more than capable of overcoming a wall.
This doesn’t mean that terrorists couldn’t use a porous border for nefarious ends, but a border wall might not be the most effective means of stopping these agents.
The other issue is the drug cartels which are a real problem in northern Mexico and along the border states. Will a wall stop the drug cartels from moving product across the border?
As even Fox News reported in January of 2018, drug cartels along the border are making extensive use of drones to deliver drugs into the United States. In addition to this method, the cartels also use traditional means like digging tunnels, transporting goods by air or ship, or even just tossing the drugs over the border.
The point is, if the wall is supposed to stop drug trafficking (and human trafficking, for that matter) a wall is but one easily overcome obstacle.
Then there is the even more insidious issue that these immigrants, even if they are not drug dealers, terrorists, or human traffickers, are here to live off of the largesse of the United States government. Probably the most pernicious of the beliefs spread by the Trump administration, this view posits that the immigrants and refugees at the border are nothing to be pitied because they’re only here to take – and do it without giving back.
Ignoring that there are real refugees at the border fleeing human rights, some in the Trump administration and others have used El Salvador’s gang MS-13 as a popular scare tactic to prove that the violent criminals from the south are coming over the borders.
But, in reality, a lot of these people are fleeing gangs like MS-13 which rule some areas of El Salvador with an iron fist. From threats of violence and death to fleeing for a better life, the reasons immigrants come to the United States are varied but few actually arrive to import terror and crime.
None of this is saying that there aren’t real problems with border security or that something needs to be done about it. But telling the truth about the situation is the first step towards progress. Using political buzzwords and points of division does not do justice to the gravity of the situation.
What has really poisoned the well about discussions dealing with border issues, immigration, and refugees is that black-and-white thinking is so much easier than the nuanced reality that is real life. Some might wish to make the world a simpler place, others might transform the world’s problems into a simpler proposition for their own ends, but neither of these notions changes the fact that the situation at the border is mind bogglingly complex and in need of concerted attention.