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Analysis: Trump’s border wall faces reality check

President Donald Trump’s vow to accelerate construction of a “contiguous, physical wall” along the Mexican border is slamming into a Washington reality— who’s going to pay for it and how?

Continue reading Analysis: Trump’s border wall faces reality check

Trump orders construction of border wall and punishment for sanctuary cities

President Donald Trump on Jan. 25 ordered construction of a U.S.-Mexican border “wall” and punishment for cities shielding illegal immigrants while mulling restoring a CIA secret detention program.

Also, a draft executive order seen by Reuters that Trump is expected to sign in the coming days would block the entry of refugees from war-torn Syria and suspend the entry of any immigrants from Muslim-majority Middle Eastern and African countries Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen while permanent rules are studied.

Trump’s executive orders on Wednesday signaled a tough action toward the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, whom he already has threatened to deport.

In a move critics called a slight to the integrity of American democracy, Trump also said he would seek a “major investigation” into what he believes was voter fraud in the November election, despite overwhelming consensus among state officials, election experts and politicians that it is rare in the United States.

“We are going to restore the rule of law in the United States,” Trump told an audience that included relatives of people killed by illegal immigrants at the Department of Homeland Security after signing two executive orders.

The directives ordered the construction of a multibillion-dollar “wall” along the roughly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, moved to strip federal funding from sanctuary states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants and expanded the force of U.S. anti-immigration agents.

His plans prompted an outcry from immigrant advocates and Democratic lawmakers who said Trump was jeopardizing the rights and freedoms of millions of people while treating Mexico as an enemy, not an ally, and soiling America’s historic reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants of all stripes.

“The border wall is about political theater at the expense of civil liberties,” said Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition immigrant advocacy group.

“It is not national security policy. Border communities are among the safest in the nation, and patrolling them with tens of thousands of heavily armed, poorly trained, unaccountable agents puts lives at risks. This will turn these communities into de facto military zones,” Ramirez said.

The White House said the wall would stem the flow of drugs, crime and illegal immigration into the United States.

The immigration crackdown has sparked fear among  “dreamers,” whose parents brought them to the United States illegally and who received deportation relief and work permits from President Barack Obama’s administration.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said “dreamers” should not be worried. “We’re focused on physical security of the border, we’re focused on those who are coming to do us harm from terrorist states and things like that,” he told MSNBC.

TENSION WITH MEXICO

Trump’s actions could further test relations with Mexico.

Trump’s policies, including his demand that the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada be renegotiated or scrapped, have put Mexico’s government on the defensive. Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto are due to meet next week.

Pena Nieto said he “regrets and disapproves” of the push by Trump to build a new wall along the border.

Officials in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, Washington, San Francisco and Seattle offer some forms of protection to illegal immigrants. Billions of dollars in federal aid to those cities, often governed by Democrats, could be at risk under Trump’s move.

Trump said construction on the wall would start within months, with planning starting immediately and he said Mexico would pay back to the United States “100 percent” of the costs. Mexican officials repeatedly said that is not going to happen.

The cost, nature and extent of the wall remain unclear. Trump last year put the cost at “probably $8 billion,” although other estimates are higher, and he said the wall would span 1,000 miles because of the terrain of the border.

END OF ‘CATCH AND RELEASE’

Trump’s directives would end the practice known by critics as “catch and release” in which authorities apprehend illegal immigrants on U.S. territory but do not immediately detain or deport them.

The directives also include hiring 5,000 more U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

They also create more detention space along the southern border to make it easier to detain and deport people.

Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg, Roberta Rampton, Jonathan Landay, Mark Hosenball, Doina Chiacu, Andy Sullivan, Mohammad Zargham, Eric Beech and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney.

‘High threat’ Texas border busts aren’t always

Drivers in Texas busted for drunken driving, not paying child support or low-level drug offenses are among thousands of “high-threat” criminal arrests being counted as part of a nearly $1 billion mission to secure the border with Mexico, an Associated Press analysis has found.

Having once claimed that conventional crime data doesn’t fully capture the dangers to public safety and homeland security, the Texas Department of Public Safety classified more than 1,800 offenders arrested near the border by highway troopers in 2015 as “high threat criminals.”

But not all live up to that menacing label or were anywhere close to the border — and they weren’t caught entering the country illegally, as Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is Texas’ chairman for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, has suggested.

In response to the AP’s findings, the Department of Public Safety said it will recommend removing child support evaders from the list and signaled a willingness to stop classifying other arrests as “high threat.”

However, it defended the data overall, saying it isn’t intended to measure border security, even though the figures are included in briefings to lawmakers.

“It’s deceptive to say the least,” Democratic state Rep. Terry Canales, from the border city of Edinburg, said of the data. “I would say it’s shocking that a person arrested with a small amount of cocaine in Odessa is used to show supposedly high-threat criminal arrests on the Texas-Mexico border.”

The AP used open records laws to obtain a list of 2015 Texas Highway Patrol arrests classified as “high threat” in a broad 60-county area that the DPS has defined as the border region, then reviewed online court and jail records for cases in Hidalgo and El Paso counties, which had the most such arrests.

Among the “high threat” incidents was a trailer that unlatched from an RV and rolled into oncoming traffic, killing another driver in a town more than 150 miles from the border. Other crimes lumped in with suspected killers and human traffickers were speeding teenagers and hit-and-runs that caused no serious injuries.

Republican leaders have used crime, smuggling and immigration data to justify an intensified deployment of troopers, armored boats and spy planes to the border since 2014. And Trump’s promises to wall off the border with Mexico resonate with many in Texas, where Republican lawmakers tripled border security spending last year, and in 2017 will consider approving another $1 billion.

A threat overview published by DPS in 2013 defined high-threat criminals as “individuals whose criminal activity poses a serious public safety or homeland security threat.” But about 40 “high threat” offenses can be overly broad. For instance, nearly half the 2015 arrests were for possession of a controlled substance, but DPS doesn’t distinguish between a gram of cocaine and a drug smuggler’s 50 pounds of marijuana. And failure to pay child support is included with sex crimes under offenses against the family.

High-threat arrests, which are tracked statewide, are among nearly three dozen “border security related” metrics collected by DPS, according to agency briefings given to lawmakers.

But DPS Director Steve McCraw told the AP that high-threat data isn’t used to assess border security but rather is included in briefings for the sake of transparency. McCraw said the term “high threat” was never meant to suggest only the worst of the worst, but rather to distinguish more serious crimes.

“I don’t care, we can change the name,” McCraw said. “Just so long as, internally, we have a way of differentiating.”

Hidalgo County, in the Rio Grande Valley, is one of the busiest corridors for drug and human trafficking in the U.S., and where Texas deployed an influx of troopers, National Guard patrols and camera surveillance. While dozens of 161 high-threat arrests for drug possession were alleged pot smugglers, about 1 in 5 were charged with having less than a gram or other low-level drug charges. Drunken drivers who didn’t pull over are also counted the same as fleeing traffickers.

In El Paso County, more than half of 190 high-threat arrests last year were for drug offenses. Of those, about three in 10 were arrests for less than a gram of drugs such as cocaine or small amounts of marijuana.

Some lawmakers, including members of Texas’ House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety, said they didn’t pay attention to high-threat arrests and that the data isn’t included in high-level briefings.

But following a border visit in March, Patrick incorrectly tweeted that DPS had arrested about 14,000 high-threat criminals in the previous year. Patrick senior adviser Sherry Sylvester said the lieutenant governor had been “unintentionally unclear,” but then herself falsely described the arrests as “criminal illegal aliens” who she said pose a “serious threat to public safety in Texas.”

Border Patrol erecting 18-foot fence in unwalled New Mexico area

Amid a debate over erecting a new border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S. Border Patrol says it is finishing an 18-foot-tall steel fence in the last stretch of unwalled, urban borderline in New Mexico.

Officials say the new fencing will run a mile from the bottom of a mesa to the base of tourist attraction of Mount Cristo Rey, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

Currently, a run-down, 10-foot-high chain-link fence sits in the area and border patrol agents say it can be easily climbed and offers little protection in the city of Sunland Park.

The city sits just west of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico,

The new fence will be made of rust-colored steel columns and is part of an $11 million project authorized by the Bush administration under the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

It will supplant the chain-link fencing erected in the 1980s.

The new barrier will be reinforced 5 feet underground with steel panels to prevent smugglers from building underground tunnels.

“It’s a fence that is replacing another fence,” said Border Patrol spokesman Ramiro Cordero. “It doesn’t hold anymore.”

Construction is expected to finish early in 2017.

But the new project is drawing scrutiny from some immigrant rights advocates.

Activists hold rallies here and reunions where undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. can meet.

For example, on Mexico’s Day of the Dead, Nov. 2, advocates hold a binational Mass to honor the migrants who have died trying to cross into the U.S. through the arid desert.

“In our opinion, the fencing has not necessarily been a good deterrence for immigration,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the El Paso-based immigrant advocacy group Border Network for Human Rights. “But it does represent a symbolic response, a very aggressive response, to immigrants and the border community.”

A Cronkite News-Univision News-Dallas Morning News border poll released last month found a majority of residents surveyed on both sides of the border are against the building of a wall between the two countries and believe the campaign’s tone is damaging relations.

According to the poll, 86 percent of border residents in Mexico and 72 percent of those questioned in the U.S. were against building a wall.

The poll surveyed 1,427 residents in 14 border sister cities to assess attitudes and opinions on the local economy, immigration and border security.

The issue of the border wall has garnered national attention since GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has vowed to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S.-Mexico border is already lined with intermittent miles of barriers.

In some places, a tall fence ascends desert hills.

In others, sturdy wire mesh or metal pillars end suddenly.

Activists stage Trump protest at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Four activists have scaled a pair of 60-foot flagpoles at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, attaching a 625-square-foot banner protesting Donald Trump’s positions on fracking and immigration.

“As the presidential campaigns swing into full step with this week’s RNC and next week’s DNC, communities directly impacted by oil and gas extraction have come together with immigrant communities being torn apart by deportations to take a stand against an unjust system that targets us all,” Emmelia Talarico said.  Talarico is an activist from Maryland who works to address labor and immigration injustice.

Activists said they want to demonstrate that while Trump is calling for the building of a wall with Mexico, social movements are breaking down the barriers that have prevented them from working together.

“Through the power of direct action, our movements can and will stop the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump, and continue to push Hillary Clinton to ban fracking and stop the deportations,” Shane Davis said. He was forced from his home in Colorado after being exposed to the harmful impacts of fracking. Davis isa member of the Stop the Frack Attack Network Advisory Council.

“We must remember that fracking often targets low income communities of color, often many of which are immigrants such as the Central Valley of California, where over 95 percent of fracking occurs in California,” Davis said. “We cannot stand by and accept a political system in which both candidates support the toxic fracking industry, and one candidate freely uses violent racialized language against immigrant communities.”

Activists stage a protest against Donald Trump at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. — PHOTO: Robby Diesu
Activists stage a protest against Donald Trump at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. — PHOTO: Robby Diesu

Scott Walker’s Canada wall idea called ‘dumb,’ ‘crazy’

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s entertaining the idea of building a wall separating the United States and Canada is being called “crazy” and “dumb.”

Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy called the idea “one of the craziest” ideas of the presidential campaign.

And Mike Murphy, the head of the Right to Rise super PAC supporting Jeb Bush, said on Twitter that Walker was distracted by focusing on building a wall between the U.S. and Canada.

Murphy’s tweet ended with the hashtag “(hash)NotReady.”

And Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul called it a “pretty dumb idea” in an interview on Boston Herald Radio.

Walker said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the issue of border security in the north had been raised by law enforcement officials during a recent town hall in New Hampshire.

Scott Walker is interested in building wall along Canadian border, which is world’s longest

In an interview this morning on NBC’s Meet the Press, Gov. Scott Walker suggested that building a wall along the country’s northern border with Canada is a legitimate issue that merits further review. The U.S.-Canada boundary is the longest international border in the world at 5,525 miles long.

Republican candidates for president have often taken a get-tough approach on deterring illegal immigration, but they usually focus on the border with Mexico. Walker said voters in New Hampshire have questioned him about the Canadian border.

“They raised some very legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that is a legitimate issue for us to look at,” Walker said.

Billionaire Donald Trump is riding the issue of illegal immigration to the top of the Republican presidential primary polls. He has said he would make Mexico pay for completing a permanent wall along the border. He also says he would end automatic citizenship for babies born in the United States, which is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Walker, at one point, echoed Trump’s call for ending birthright citizenship, but later said he’s against any such repeal. Before that, he said that he would not comment on the issues, and before that he called for giving illegal immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship.

Walker is apparently the only GOP presidential candidate who has taken every stance possible on the issue.