WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called President Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the southern border “an immorality,” a position that has drawn criticism from Republicans who say she should be demanding the hundreds of miles of barriers already in place be removed if she truly feels that way.
"If Nancy Pelosi thinks that Walls are 'immoral,' why isn’t she requesting that we take down all of the existing Walls between the U.S. and Mexico, even the new ones just built in San Diego at their very strong urging," President Trump tweeted earlier this week.
Pelosi did not respond to Trump’s tweet, and other Democrats were hesitant to put words in her mouth Wednesday.
“I can’t speak for the speaker,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, “but what I hope has happened is many folks who voted for the original wall have come to see what we warned them about.”
Escobar, whose district in El Paso is near a stretch of existing fencing, said the barriers Congress approved more than a decade ago have had some negative consequences.
“I hope folks have realized walls are deadly,” she said. “When people are so desperate they will flee their country to go to another, a wall doesn’t stop them. It just pushes them out to more treacherous, dangerous, deadly crossings where migrants die in the desert or drown in rivers.”
The speaker has been consistent on the matter of Trump’s wall, saying as early as April 2017 it is “immoral, expensive, unwise."
Republicans say Pelosi’s position is not consistent with that held by many top Democrats in Congress in 2006 when the Secure Fence Act passed with bipartisan support. The legislation, which authorized funding for several hundred miles of fencing along the border, was backed by current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and then-Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, although Pelosi voted against it in the House.
“We’ve had a bipartisan consensus that a physical border barrier, a fence, double fencing, the parallel road system, lighting, camera technology is integral to the southwest border security arena from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego, and since the 1990s, we’ve been constructing fence,” said Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., dismissing Pelosi’s rhetoric as “hyperbole.”
With the government shutdown in its second month and federal workers likely to miss a second paycheck this Friday, President Trump logged on to Twitter Wednesday morning to again make his pitch for border wall funding.
“BUILD THE WALL AND CRIME WILL FALL,” Trump tweeted, predicting that will be the refrain for Republicans until construction is complete and advising them to “use it and pray.”
Escobar argued the link between a wall and prevention of crime is tenuous at best.
“The border has never been more secure or safer,” she said. “We know 90 percent of drugs come through our ports of entry.”
Trump claimed earlier this month walls already constructed near El Paso turned it “from being one of the most dangerous cities in the country to one of the safest cities in the country overnight.”
However, in the three years before border fence construction near El Paso began in 2008, it had the third lowest violent crime rate of major U.S. cities with a population over 500,000, and it has had the lowest murder rate of the six largest cities in Texas for decades. The crime rate there was higher in the early 1990s, but it dropped after an influx of additional Border Patrol agents in 1993.
Under the Secure Fence Act, DHS built about 650 miles of pedestrian and vehicle barriers, covering the most trafficked areas and other locations that posed minimal logistical and legal obstacles. Under the Obama administration, the agency determined that was all that was needed to secure the border.
Trump’s DHS has identified about 300 additional miles to wall off and about 400 miles of existing barriers to be repaired or reinforced. The money Trump is demanding now would pay for 215 miles of the new barriers.
Democrats maintain the walls Trump wants to build are different from the ones already in place. They also argue Trump is essentially holding a quarter of the federal government hostage right now, and any further discussion of wall funding must wait until after he signs appropriations bills for the shuttered agencies.
“If we do not have these negotiations over border security with an open government, this president will continue to use this tool,” said Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., at a news conference Wednesday. “And if we give in, if we pay the ransom now, what will happen next time there’s a disagreement with this president and Congress?”
Trump often insisted during the campaign that his wall would be nothing like the fencing approved by Congress in 2006, and he has dismissed the effectiveness of the existing barriers. Parameters set by DHS for wall prototypes required them to be much taller and more difficult to penetrate.
Morality aside, Democrats say the walls Trump envisions simply will not accomplish his goals, and they stress Republicans have expressed similar doubts in the past.
“Look, I don’t think this is an issue of morality; it’s an issue of does it work?” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Del., told Fox News last week. “And Senator Cornyn, Senator Graham, other members of the United States Senate have put in question whether a wall works, whether that is the best way to secure the border.”
Escobar acknowledged the current surge of families crossing the border seeking asylum is unsustainable, but she said the answer is to address the root causes of migration in Central America rather than making the crossing more difficult.
“A wall won’t prevent what President Trump wants it to prevent, which is Central American families seeking refuge in America,” she said.
Still, Rep. Hill argued Pelosi’s stance on the morality of a wall is out of step with the nation and even other Democratic leaders on the use of walls for national security purposes.
“I agree with Steny Hoyer,” he said. “It not, per say, immoral in that context.”
Some Democrats acknowledge walls can be effective in certain areas of the border, and they do not necessarily believe the final border security package negotiated with Trump should not include any barriers. However, most still back Pelosi’s stance that the government should be reopened before anything is put on the table.
“We need to get the government open up again and then let’s have a broader conversation that puts everything on the table in terms of border security,” said Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Okla. “That includes smart technology, that includes perhaps in some places a physical barrier, but we need to make sure we’re paying the people who protect us to work.”