The issue of the proposed US-Mexico border wall has without doubt become the main battleground between President Donald J. Trump and the Democrats in Washington.
As to how this happened, the short answer is that the wall has come to represent the increasingly tense situation at the US’ southern border. As the US government’s partial shutdown enters its 24th day, President Trump has visited the southern border and addressed the nation on the ongoing national security and humanitarian crisis.
The speech was televised during a prime-time television slot (21.00 EST) when more viewers than ever were glued to their screens.
Stalemate in Congress
Prior to the announcement of the speech, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives rejected Trump’s initial demands of US$5.7 billion as a down payment for the construction of the wall. As a result, Trump threatened to declare a state of national emergency in order to build the wall without congressional approval.
Apart from the ongoing government stalemate, this has prompted questions directed at the White House regarding the legal challenges and repercussions of such a move, including whether or not the White House counsel’s office has thoroughly reviewed the matter – to which Vice President Mike Pence has responded by saying that, “They’re looking at it, and the president is considering it.”
Meanwhile, as previously expected, the speech was delivered in the same divisive vein as most of the president’s previous addresses to the public – particularly with regards to Mexican immigration. In fact, the build-up to Trump’s speech had already caused a lot of unease in international markets.
FXCM’s economic calendar predicted that Trump’s speech to the nation would be highly volatile from an economic standpoint. It likely only served to lengthen the stalemate in Washington and further muddy the waters of international trade, much like Trump’s previous major public addresses.
It’s important to note that while the proposed border wall itself is taking centre stage in US-Mexico relations, plenty of other factors, such as conditions at the border, suggest that Trump as well as the Democrats should be focused on much more crucial matters.
At the same time, more than just a proposed physical border, the wall has become a central talking point from which either side can expound their respective views regarding Mexican immigration.
For instance, Trump and those who support building the wall tout it as a solution not just to illegal immigration, but also as a way to protect US domestic labour markets from the influx of foreign labour. However, as Jeffrey Hallock explains, “Apprehensions at the border plummeted to historic lows in 2017 while Mexicans have been leaving the US at a higher rate than they have been entering since 2014.”
This suggests that even if Trump’s insistence on building the wall may genuinely be in the interest of protecting the US, an expensive physical border isn’t exactly what the US actually needs in terms of immigration policy.
The president has claimed in the past that it would cost the US less than US$10bn. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates that the cost is closer to $21.6 billion, independent estimates pegs it closer to $38 billion, while the Democrats claim that it could cost a staggering $70 billion.
These numbers are instrumental in explaining why the proposed wall has become the main battleground for decision-makers in Washington – so much so that it’s resulted in a shutdown that not only threatens future budget allocations, but also the lives of those who are directly affected by the Trump administration’s current immigration policies.
The Guardian rightly points to the two recently deceased children as well as the thousands of families in detention as a direct result of the US government’s crackdown on both legal and illegal border crossings. There are also the thousands of migrants stuck in dangerous conditions in northern Mexico with no place to go, the human cost of which is already being compared to that of war zones in the Middle East.
While the Democrats in Washington continue to be stuck in a stalemate with Trump with regards to the wall issue, no one is taking it sitting down.
Both Democrat senator Chuck Schumer and house speaker Nancy Pelosi recently wrote to cable news channels and main networks which had broadcast Trump’s speech, appealing for airtime equal to the president’s appearance, which they were granted following the President’s address.
This allowed them to thoroughly explain why Trump’s wall is not a good idea and debunked fallacies which Trump made in his speech.
If the shutdown is not resolved soon, however, the Washington stalemate could go on for much longer, possibly turning into the longest government shutdown in history – yet another historic claim for Trump’s already infamous presidency.