Jan 28 2019
Walls and Fences Have Been Embraced by Both Parties for Decades
The debate over funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has invoked partisan passions and strong language. Democratic leaders have dismissed the President’s proposed wall as “irresponsible,” “not serious,” and “wasteful.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., went so far as to say a border wall would be “immoral.”
Today’s charged rhetoric contradicts decades of bipartisan support for enhanced border security including physical barriers. Congress has funded walls and fences along the southern border under presidents of both parties. Until recently, these efforts were widely considered necessary to defend our homeland and were not controversial.
History of America’s Border Wall
For most of American history, the border with Mexico has been secured only by natural barriers. By the early 1990s, the flow of undocumented immigrants and illegal drugs across the Mexican border required a greater response.
In 1991, the U.S. Border Patrol under President George H.W. Bush began to erect the first physical barriers between San Diego and Tijuana. Many of these original border walls were built from scrap metal leftover from Vietnam War-era helicopter landing pads.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the border patrol continued to build physical barriers along high-traffic areas. These efforts were supported by both chambers of Congress under the leadership of both parties, and by three presidents – two Republicans and one Democrat.
In 2006, Congress and President George W. Bush enacted the “Secure Fence Act” with strong bipartisan support, including 26 Senate Democrats. The bill authorized billions of dollars to build physical barriers and secure the border through technology.
In 2013, all 54 Democrats then serving in the U.S. Senate voted for an immigration reform package, which proposed $46 billion in border security and added 700 miles of border fencing. This bill did not pass the House of Representatives because of other concerns, but it nevertheless put Senate Democrats on record for supporting enhanced border security structures.
It turns out the physical barriers actually worked. It is well documented that the San Diego, El Paso, Tucson, and Yuma walls reduced illegal border crossings in each of these sectors by at least 90 percent.
The Trump Administration built on this success by obtaining additional resources to construct, improve, or replace approximately 120 miles of walls in fiscal years 2017 and 2018. Congress met these requests through appropriations bills, passed with bipartisan support. As that work nears completion, more must be done to address a growing crisis at the southern border.
This year, 50 percent more gang members have been arrested at the border than last year and overall apprehensions are up more than 30 percent. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has also seized 115 percent more fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid, and 75 percent more methamphetamine this year. Caravans of hundreds of migrants have attempted to storm border crossings and enter the United States by overwhelming our border patrol. Although our nation is welcoming and compassionate to those who seek a better life and respect our laws, we cannot allow this level of chaos and lawlessness in our country.
Given the effectiveness of the walls currently in place, and the immense challenges we face at our border, it is unfortunate the President’s request for additional walls and security has sparked such a partisan divide. A return to bipartisan support for enhanced border security would go a long way toward improving our politics and protecting our nation.