Current rhetoric condemning Trump’s moves to construct a wall on the US’ Southern border largely ignores earlier efforts of prominent Democrats and Republicans to the same effect.
Since Trump made his debut on the arena of national politics, his proposal to construct a massive wall along the United State’s Southern border has figured prominently in both his political persona and platform. The wall, among other campaign promises, was key to Trump’s success in the recent presidential election, particularly because the project garnered widespread support from Republicans – with 65% still supporting the measure according to a January CBS New poll. Within a week of taking office, Trump signed an executive order set to make the wall along the nations’ 2,000 mile border a reality though uncertainty clouded whether or not the Mexican government would actually be footing the bill as Trump had long promised.
Though the border wall is strongly associated with Trump in the minds of most Americans, this project is only the latest iteration of a long-standing bipartisan effort to “secure” the country’s southern front. In 2006, for example, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act which mandated the construction of 700 miles of double-fence in key parts of the US-Mexico border where illegal immigration was particularly commonplace. At the time, many of the very same Democrats decrying Trump’s border wall as xenophobic or short-sighted voted for the bill, including Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Dianne Feinstein, and Chuck Schumer. Even Barack Obama, then a Senator, praised the bill, saying on the Senate floor that the measure would “help stem some of the tide of illegal immigration in this country.” It is also worth pointing out that a record-breaking 3 million people were deported under Obama’s presidential administration.
Though this 2006 bill set an important precedent for the border crackdown, one of the most pivotal points in the militarization of the US-Mexico border took place under Bill Clinton’s administration when “Operation Gatekeeper” was passed in 1994. Though the Clintons are now chief among Trump’s critics, it was their initiative which funneled billions of dollars into military-style border security measures, including high-intensity stadium lights, remote video surveillance, and motion detectors. Patrols in populated sectors were increased, with the number of border agents increasing by nearly a third, forcing those immigrating illegally to cross the desert and other barren tracks of land. Thousands are estimated to have died as a result.
Looking back, the onset of “Operation Gatekeeper” is not all too surprising, considering that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was also approved that same year. The inherently unjust trade agreement was directly responsible for the displacement of massive amounts of small farmers throughout Mexico, resulting in one of the largest mass movements in human history as many Mexicans were forced to seek opportunities northward. For all his shortcomings, Trump has correctly identified NAFTA as a big part of the illegal immigration problem, having promised to re-negotiate it ostensibly to lessen its most deleterious effects. Regardless of whether Trump or his much-maligned wall is ultimately successful in stemming the tide of illegal immigration, he is only responding to a problem that U.S. politicians – Democrats and Republicans alike – created in their commitment to protecting and inflating corporate profits.
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