Before I get into the meat of this, I have to point out one obvious fact: there already is a wall. It’s usually referred to as a “fence,” or more specifically a set of pedestrian and vehicles barriers.
The pedestrian barriers most closely resemble the “steel slat wall/fences” that Trump has more recently been clamoring for.
In many of the spaces when the pedestrian barriers end, there are vehicle barriers.
When you look at the red and yellow sections on the map, it becomes clear that there are hundreds of miles of pedestrian barriers close to the cities, and then vehicle barriers after that which stretch into remote areas of the desert. This belies Trump’s claim that you can just “drive and then make a left (or perhaps a right) turn” and easily enter the U.S. from the south. That isn’t the case.
There are some places where the barriers are aging and need repair, and a few gaps in the sections beyond the Rio Grande, but for the most part the rest of the areas without a current barrier look like this.
So it’s best to presume that Trump’s request for $5.7 billion in “wall” money is intended to close all the gaps, including the Rio Grande, by blocking off 257 miles of the remaining sections which aren’t already closed by natural barriers.
The question is: Is this really worth it?
At a certain point there are diminishing returns because all of the obvious, easily accessible and highly trafficked areas already have a barrier. Any more pedestrian barriers would have to be placed in more and more remote areas — where there are only vehicle barriers now — and the cost benefit of the construction of some fairly expensive fencing through the desert, over mountains, through valleys and next to rivers such as the Rio Grande which will create a group of no-man’s land strips of U.S. territory between the river and the walls which would be isolated from the rest of the country.
Even though Trump could legally declare an emergency and pulls funds from the rebuilding of Houston and Puerto Rico for his wall, he’d still have to a acquire access to private land which is a larger problem.
Despite the claim that “Walls Work” the Border Patrol Union recently deleted a web page from 2012 that totally trashes Trump’s wall arguments.
“Walls and fences are temporary solutions that focus on the symptom (illegal immigration) rather than the problem (employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens),” the union wrote. “Walls and fences are only a speed bump,” the webpage read. “People who want to come to the United States to obtain employment will continue to go over, under and around the walls and fences that are constructed.” The current Union president Brandon Judd disagreed with the page, and waited before taking it down so he wouldn't appear to be “hiding from the proposition.”
It would be smarter and more effective to use sensors and surveillance to track anyone crossing in these remote areas than additional barriers which they would circumvent by going further into the desert, climbing or digging under a fence. Pushing people further into rougher territory also has been leading to more of them dying of exposure and dehydration.
More people have died crossing the border from Mexico to the US in the first seven months of 2017 compared to the year before, even though significantly fewer people seem to be attempting the journey, according to the United Nation’s migration agency.
The number of migrant deaths tallied at the border jumped 17% from 204 in the first seven months of 2016 to 232 migrant fatalities in 2017, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
Fewer people are attempting the foot journey around the existing barriers due to Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, with many more of them opting instead to be smuggled by coyotes through the existing points of entry and avoiding the barriers entirely. Simply put, more wall means more death for the most desperate and poor migrants who can’t afford the $10,000, or aren’t willing to put themselves into virtual slavery, to pay off what coyotes are now charging.
I mention the word “holocaust” in the title for two reasons. The first is the fact that Trump supporters find it so necessary to keep denying that anything they advocate is anything like Hitler. Case in point: Alan Dershowitz, who recently said that anyone who compared Trump or anyone to Hitler is a Holocaust denier.
“Everybody is compared to Hitler. Everybody is compared to the Holocaust. Israel defending itself against Gaza rockets — oh, they’re Nazis. Anybody who compares Trump or anybody else to Hitler essentially is a Holocaust denier, because what they’re saying [is] well, there were no gas chambers, there was no Auschwitz, there was no plan to kill six million Jews. They minimize it,” he explained.
“To say that anything that happened since then is comparable to the Holocaust and certainly to compare the American political system to anything that happened in the Holocaust is just outrageous,” Dershowitz added.
This is a bit of pathetic one-upmanship. In other words, “My terrible thing is worse than your terrible thing because I’ve got a bigger body count.” Yes, there were 6 million Jews, gypsies, and LGBT people who were slaughtered by Hitler. But that’s doesn’t mean that Pol Pot, who killed 1.8 million, and Stalin, who killed an estimated 20 million, are irrelevant or any less monstrous. It doesn’t make Rwanda meaningless. It doesn’t make the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia, which killed 101,000 and displaced 2.2 million, or the Armenian genocide, which killed 1.5 million, minor little things.
It doesn’t mean that the current estimates of casualties from the Syrian civil war (which are between 360,000 and 580,000 and which has produced an estimated 13.5 million refugees); or the current civil war in Yemen (which is estimated to soon cause 14 million to die by famine); or the murder rate in Guatemala (which is estimated at 101 per week, or 5,200 per year); or Honduras (which has 7,000 murders per year); and the 3,954 annual murders in El Salvador (which makes it the most dangerous country in the world per capita because of it’s relatively small population) are inconsequential.
If we have thousands of people fleeing these countries showing up on our borders, we frankly shouldn’t be surprised. Who wouldn’t be willing to flee from the most dangerous places on the planet? None of these are equivalent and none of these situations are the same, but they do have some similarities, which are fair to point out. More importantly, our response to these survivors and refugees should be the same as how we’ve responded to refugees from Cuba, or from the earthquake in Haiti, or the boat people escaping Vietnam’s fall into communism.
For some reason, it’s not.
Of course in these comparisons it’s probably unfair to say that Trump is anything like Hitler just because he has taken money from hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico to spend on detaining 14,000 children in detention camps in the middle of the Texas desert.
The Trump administration appears to have diverted nearly $10 million in funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency at the forefront of the president’s zero-tolerance immigration policy that led to the separation of hundreds of children, some as young as 18 months old, from their parents.
The reallocation of public money is documented in a “Transfer and Reprogramming” notification prepared this fiscal year by the Department of Homeland Security, the parent department of ICE, as the agency is known. It was made public by Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon in an appearance Tuesday on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” as Hurricane Florence barreled toward the Carolinas.
Merkley’s office provided the 39-page budget document independently to The Washington Post. It shows that DHS requested that about $9.8 million going toward FEMA efforts such as “Preparedness and Protection” and “Response and Recovery” be funneled instead into ICE coffers, specifically underwriting “Detention Beds” and the agency’s “Transportation and Removal Program.” The U.S. Secret Service was also a beneficiary of the reallocation.
So we should be more than a bit skeptical that the $5 billion he’s demanding for his “big beautiful wall” will actually go where’s it intended. And according to the Chicago Tribune, it will be too expensive and won’t work.
Never mind that the idea had as much chance of materializing as a rainforest in the Sonoran Desert. Even Trump has hedged: “We don’t need 2,000 (miles). We need 1,000, because we have natural barriers.” But promising a 1,000-mile wall with hundreds of miles of holes might not have stoked raucous cheers from his crowds.
The cost would be enormous. An internal report by the Department of Homeland Security put the price at $21.6 billion. A study by the Democratic staff of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee calculated it at $70 billion, not counting maintenance.That’s more than $200 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. — and zero dollars for every man, woman and child in Mexico.
Those who would be most directly affected show the least enthusiasm. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, whose district includes 800 miles of the Mexican border, says “a wall from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security.” The Texas Border Coalition, made up of mayors and other officials from the area, calls it a “false promise.” For his Tuesday gala, Trump went to San Diego, whose City Council passed a resolution opposing the wall — which the Republican mayor declined to veto.
Trump claimed his wall would be “99 percent” effective, which is enough to make a lizard laugh. There is no reason to think endless slabs of concrete would stop illegal immigration or drug smuggling.
Maybe it’s unfair to Trump to note that after he tore kids away from their parents and stacked them up like cordwood in camps, instead of having his people take care of their final disposition themselves he’s simply outsourcing their disposal to central American gangs once they ultimately get summarily deported at age 18.
“Kids who come in who are 17 and their sponsor is slow, or they don’t have a sponsor, or they don’t have their paperwork done in time, ORR can’t do anything except turn them back over to DHS, which is also heartbreaking,” the former Obama administration official said.
They can be sent back into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody and, specifically, Enforcement and Removal Operations. They can be detained, prosecuted, and deported. In cases involving older teens, this has already happened.
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), an organization that protects unaccompanied children who enter the US immigration system, in a recent report on the Trump administration’s treatment of lone child migrants flagged the 18th birthday issue and pointed out that ICE isn’t supposed to automatically lock up teens once they hit the legal age of adulthood.
Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013, unaccompanied immigrant children in ORR custody after turning 18 are supposed to be placed in the “least restrictive setting available” after taking into account whether they oppose a danger to themselves or others or might try to flee.
ICE is supposed to consider placement with sponsors or supervised group homes, but according to KIND, “ICE has begun to transfer children to its custody after they turn 18, and even in some cases, on their 18th birthdays, without such consideration.”
The second reason this situation is relevant to the Holocaust is because our laws and rules on asylum were specifically crafted to help prevent exactly what happened in Germany in the 1940s, which prompted the UN to craft their treaty on the treatment to refugees in 1951.
The 1951 Refugee Convention is the key legal document that forms the basis of our work. Ratified by 145 State parties, it defines the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them.
The core principle is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a rule of customary international law
Consequently, the U.S. ratified this treaty in 1968. U.S. asylum law is based on this very same principle of non-refoulement, and specifically requires ICE and CBP to consider asylum requests even from people who don’t enter at a “valid” point of entry.
Sec. 208. (a) Authority to Apply for Asylum.-
(1) In general. - Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien's status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 235(b).
Federal agencies have not collected data on the extent of possible asylum fraud, according to a 2015 report by the United States Government Accountability Office. That same report found that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Executive Office for Immigration Review have the tools they need to investigate fraud cases, although they lack a system for regularly assessing “fraud risks across the asylum process.”
TPS protects approximately 330,000 people in the U.S. from 10 countries who would otherwise be subjected to disease, violence, starvation, the aftermath of natural disasters, and other life-threatening conditions. The largest group of TPS recipients is from El Salvador (195,000 people) followed by Honduras (57,000 people) and Haiti (50,000 people).
Despite President Trump’s executive order reversing his policy of separating migrant families, most of those 2,300 children have not been returned to their parents. That is truly unconscionable.
More than 100 times that number of children — all U.S. citizens — will be placed in similar jeopardy if the Department of Homeland Security begins programs to deport more than 58,000 Haitians on July 22, 2019, more than 262,000 Salvadorans on Sept. 9, 2019, and 86,000 Hondurans on Jan. 5, 2020. Parents will be faced with the decision of whether to take their children — most of whom speak mainly English and know only life in this country — back to countries deemed by the State Department as not safe for travel, some with the highest homicide rates in the hemisphere.
Subsequent reports have said that DHS has repeatedly lied about whether these countries remain dangerous.
DHS officials had justified their decision to terminate the immigrants’ temporary protected status (TPS) on the grounds that security in Sudan had improved and that armed conflict was no longer ongoing. But neither assertion was true.
“Insurgents conducted a significant military offensive as recently as this spring in Darfur,” Mandi Tuttle, an Africa policy adviser at the Defense Department, pointed out to top officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), the agency within DHS that administers the TPS program. Tuttle said its statements were neither “factually accurate” nor “credible.”
Experts at the State Department warned that “inaccuracies” in DHS’s characterization of the conflict there would give the Sudanese government a green light to shove refugees back into deadly conflict zones.
And yet Trump persists, even though federal judges have blocked his invalid revocation of TPS status, blocked his denial of asylum to people who enter between official points of entry, and blocked his denial of asylum for reasons of domestic and gang violence, going so far as to order that those who’ve been denied asylum for those reasons and subsequently deported be brought back to the U.S. to reapply.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the government over the 11 June change on behalf of 12 parents and children who were wrongly found not to have a credible fear of return. Sullivan’s ruling impacts thousands of cases where immigrants are in expedited removal proceedings.
Among the plaintiffs was a woman identified only by a pseudonym, Grace. The ACLU said Grace’s partner beat her and her children, and sexually assaulted her and her daughter. Once, the ACLU says, her daughter suffered a miscarriage after he attacked her. The lawsuit says police did not act when she contacted them. The lawsuit says Grace was found not to have a credible fear of persecution.
The judge also ordered the government to return any of the plaintiffs who may have been deported back to the US, and prevent further deportations.
During his vapid Oval Office statement to the nation this week, Trump repeatedly exaggerated the “crisis” at the border and again wrongfully claimed that so-called “illegal immigrants,” who are largely asylum seekers, are “criminals” — when even the Cato Institutes says they are not. He’s claimed that those bringing children with them are human traffickers, when reports are that 99 percent of them are their actual parents.
He’s claimed that they are mostly MS-13 gang members when the reality is that they are fleeing from MS-13, just as he’s claimed that Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS are actually ISIS wolves in refugees’ clothing, even though among the millions of refugees from Syria who are now in Europe, only six of them have been identified as potential terrorists
Ironically, U.S. deportation policies have been a key catalyst to the spread of MS-13—a gang that originated in California—in Central America.
Previous U.S. policies contributed to the extreme insecurity in their home countries. In 1996, U.S. authorities approved the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act,” which led to the deportations of tens of thousands of convicted criminals to Central America in the early 2000s. This in turn led to the expansion of gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street gang (Barrio 18)—originally born in the U.S.—across El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Trump and his administration have claimed that the U.S. “captured” 3,000 special interest aliens, suggesting that they might be terrorists from entering the U.S., although it’s far more likely that these are people attempting to obtain legal visas and fly to the U.S. from some of the overseas countries listed on Trump’s own “Muslim travel ban.”
“Those are aliens who the intel community has identified are of concern,” Nielsen said about the special interest aliens. “They either have travel patterns that are identified as terrorist travel patterns, or they have known or suspected ties to terrorism.”However, DHS testified to Congress in 2016 that special interest aliens do not necessarily have connections to terrorism. Alan Bersin, an assistant homeland security secretary in the Obama administration, described them in 2016 as “unauthorized migrants who arrive in the United States from, or are citizens of, several Asian, Middle Eastern, and African countries.” For example, a GAO report from 2010 lists “Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan” as special interest countries.
Mike Pence has said that they’ve stopped “10 terrorists per day from somewhere other than Mexico” at the southern border while in reality, CBP says that a total of between six to 12 people who were on the terrorist watchlist have been detained at the southern border. And the watchlist does have major accuracy problems because some of them were U.S. citizens and legal residents, not immigrants. Meanwhile, the State Department says that zero terrorist have been apprehended trying to enter the U.S. from our southern border.
Trump says the “wall” will help with all these problems. But the fact is that, according to the DEA, most illegal drugs enter the U.S. through normal points of entry smuggled in trucks, or else using private planes and boats, so a wall wouldn’t stop that. Human traffickers and drug mules are rare and most of them also come through normal points of entry rather than attempt to hoof it around the pedestrian barriers on foot, where they’re likely to die in the desert or else be easily caught by CBP, so again: a wall wouldn’t stop that.
During his photo-op visit to the border Trump called Democrats “crazy,” saying they were less honorable than dealing with China, and that they don’t care about crime and Americans killed by illegal immigrants.
You know who else made a lot of wild, baseless, demagogic claims about certain groups of people in order to stir up hatred, fear, and resentment of those people? Hitler.
In response to his immigration crackdown people have arranged for safe houses to hide people from ICE. You know who else caused families to hide themselves from apprehension when they’d basically committed no crime? Hitler.
You know who else used that claim of terrorism to declare a “national emergency” and grab special powers for himself? Well, George W. Bush after 9/11—but also Hitler, after the Reichstag fire.
Under the scenario presented by Trump where nearly all asylum seekers and TPS refugees— even those who are under genuine, legitimate threat—are still being jailed, rejected, and deported back to the nation that continues to threaten them, he would not be Hitler exactly. Instead he would be more like the Cuban, U.S., and Canadian governments who refused to allow the German liner St. Louis carrying hundreds of Jewish refugees to dock, ultimately causing them to return to Europe, where 245 of them were killed by Hitler.
In May 1939, the German liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, to Havana, Cuba, carrying 937 passengers, almost all Jewish refugees. The Cuban government refused to allow the ship to land, and the United States and Canada were unwilling to admit the passengers. The St. Louis passengers were finally permitted to land in western European countries rather than return to Nazi Germany. 254 St. Louis passengers were killed in the Holocaust.
When the St. Louis arrived in Havana harbor on May 27, the Cuban government admitted 28 passengers: 22 of them were Jewish and had valid US visas; the remaining six—four Spanish citizens and two Cuban nationals—had valid entry documents. One further passenger, after attempting to commit suicide, was evacuated to a hospital in Havana. The remaining 908 passengers (one passenger had died of natural causes en route)—including one non-refugee, a Hungarian Jewish businessman—had been awaiting entry visas and carried only Cuban transit visas issued by Gonzalez. 743 had been waiting to receive US visas. The Cuban government refused to admit them or to allow them to disembark from the ship.
After Cuba denied entry to the passengers on the St. Louis, the press throughout Europe and the Americas, including the United States, brought the story to millions of readers throughout the world. Though US newspapers generally portrayed the plight of the passengers with great sympathy, only a few journalists and editors suggested that the refugees be admitted into the United States.
Sailing so close to Florida that they could see the lights of Miami, some passengers on the St. Louis cabled President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking for refuge. Roosevelt never responded. The State Department and the White House had decided not to take extraordinary measures to permit the refugees to enter the United States. A State Department telegram sent to a passenger stated that the passengers must "await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States." US diplomats in Havana intervened once more with the Cuban government to admit the passengers on a "humanitarian" basis, but without success.
So Trump isn’t Hitler and we’re not Germany; that may indeed be going a bridge too far at this point. But we sure are looking like the same America we were before 1945, blind and insouciant to the needs of the desperate and vulnerable, all because of “national security.”
Trump has been demonizing migrants and foreigners from Day One. He’s called them every name in the book and thrown blame on everyone but himself. What he hasn’t done is consider their basic humanity, and he hasn’t considered our human responsibility toward them to not repeat the far-too-common mistakes of the past.
Whether it’s thousand to millions of people dying in the Syrian War because of Assad, or in Yemen because of MbS, or in Ukraine and Crimea because of Putin, in Central America because it’s become a series of narco states run by former U.S. gangs, in North Korea under the totalitarian boot on the Kim family, in the streets of the Philippines mowed down by Duterte’s roving mobs, or in our deserts as they attempt to circumnavigate the existing border barriers — Trump and his selfish, myopic, xenophobic, cowardly cult stands on the wrong side of the issue against humanity, against justice, and against the spirit of freedom that this country is founded upon. Hopefully the nation will survive all this and relearn lessons we should have never forgotten, but sadly that is likely only after many people around the world will have lost their fight for survival.