By Debra J. White –
Donald Trump called for a border wall between the USA and Mexico as a cornerstone of his campaign. Members of Trump’s dwindling support base, primarily older, white, conservative voters, agree that building a wall is a national priority, even though U.S. taxpayers will bear the immense cost. Mexico steadfastly refuses to pay. Trump cannot legally force Mexico to cover the costs for the wall. Any efforts to do so would entangle the USA in court battles for years and cost millions in legal fees, all of which would be borne by the taxpayers.
The cost of a wall would be staggering, an estimated $24.5 million per mile. No one really knows the true cost for a wall that would stretch 2,000 miles from California to Texas. Technically, it will be nearly impossible to construct a wall along the entire border because of mountainous, unforgiving and rocky terrain along certain parts.
Along the southern border sits the Lake Amistad Recreation Center which contains a large lake. A wall would cut right through that sizable body of water and disrupt a scenic park that draws thousands of tourists every year.
In addition, no one knows how many private landowners along the border may be unwilling to give up their property for wall construction. Legal challenges will make it costly for the federal government to enforce eminent domain (the right to take over private land for the greater good).
Then there is the Tohono o’Odham Native American reservation on the southern Arizona border. The 2.7 million-acre reservation is mostly in Arizona but parts of its southern edge cut into Mexico, where some members live. In a November 14, 2016, interview on KJZZ radio, vice chairman Verlon Jose said there is no way he will allow a wall to be built through their reservation.
Trump has already asked companies to submit prototypes of the wall for his consideration. Trump also threatened to shut down the government unless Congress approved funding for the wall. So far, that has not happened; Hurricanes Harvey and Irma may have changed that. Is he really willing to shut down FEMA and other aid agencies when thousands of Texas and Florida residents are desperate for help? Another issue related to racism is the post-hurricane disaster he has presided over in Puerto Rico, which has no electoral votes.
On the campaign trail, Trump had harsh words for Mexicans. He referred to Mexicans who crossed the border as “rapists and criminals.” He vowed to crack down on illegal immigration by deporting the estimated 11 million people living in the USA without documentation. Not all of them are Latinos, however. They come from a variety of countries including Canada, Israel, China, Ireland, Poland and elsewhere. He rarely mentioned that fact, just talked about rounding up illegals to the loud applause of adoring fans.
Trump neglected to look at the positive role that undocumented immigrants play in the U.S. economy. He claimed they took jobs from Americans, a fact proven untrue. It is quite the contrary. Immigrants, legal and illegal, work in jobs unwanted by Americans such as in agriculture, construction, hotels and slaughterhouses. The U.S. economy is heavily dependent on immigrant labor.
Then there was the uncertain fate of DACA (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals), the executive order signed by former President Barack Obama in 2012 to protect nearly 800,000 young people from deportation. The number could be larger, however. Only 800,000 signed up for the DACA program.
These young people were brought here as children illegally by parents in search of a better life. Nearly 80 percent of them are from Mexico but others are from Brazil, China, Korea, Poland, Ireland and other nations. Some were only babies while others were 10 or 12 years old and have little or no memory of their birth countries. They were educated in the USA in public schools and consider the USA to be home. DACA enabled them to obtain work permits and driver’s licenses.
Trump claimed to love the dreamers, as they became known, even calling them “incredible kids,” but played to his base yet again by refusing to extend DACA. Trump kicked the can down the road to Congress, where it is on the agenda for 2018. It is not known if Congress will use the dreamers as bargaining chips to promote members’ self-interests or if Trump himself will use the dreamers to coax Congress into setting money aside for the wall. Only time will tell.
Christian Avila, a representative of Mi Familia Vota’s Arizona office, says that “we’re going to be vigilant.” The Latino community saw the possible end of DACA and prepared for this. “We’re looking at all our options,” he says. Some people are scared but others feel empowered and are ready to fight. Mi Familia Vota is a national, non-profit organization that advocates for the civil rights of Latinos.
Meanwhile, the dreamers have protested outside ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) offices around the USA. Students walked out of classes here in Phoenix and across the country as soon as they heard the announcement. There was a large protest in New York City in front of Trump Tower. Business leaders such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook called on Trump to save the DACA program. Only a few hardliners support deportation. The clock is ticking. Will new legislation, if passed, contain a path to citizenship? That remains to be seen. It is unlikely that DACA recipients would vote Republican.