Trump’s border ‘wall’ van­ish­ing as GOP law­mak­ers bolt

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Bloomberg News

— The Mex­i­can border wall that Don­ald Trump promised in the cam­paign doesn’t re­ally have to be a wall, says Rep. Den­nis Ross, a mem­ber of the pres­i­dent-elect’s tran­si­tion team.

“The ‘wall’ is a term to help un­der­stand it, to de­scribe it,” says Ross, a Florida Repub­li­can, adding that it “re­ally means ‘se­cu­rity.’ It could be a fence. It could be open sur­veil­lance to pre­vent peo­ple from cross­ing. It does not mean an ac­tual wall.”

Even the pres­i­dent-elect’s clos­est al­lies in Congress are work­ing to re­de­fine Trump’s top cam­paign prom­ise, which many view as too costly and im­prac­ti­cal for se­cur­ing the 1,933-mile border with Mex-


ico. Most il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion can be halted with fenc­ing, more Border Pa­trol agents and drones, they con­tend. House Speaker Paul Ryan on Sun­day sug­gested us­ing ap­proaches that sim­ply make the most sense.

“Con­di­tions on the ground de­ter­mine what you need in a par­tic­u­lar area,” Ryan said in an in­ter­view on CBS’s “60 Min­utes.”

Trump him­self briefly backed away from the idea of a for­ti­fied wall days af­ter the elec­tion by telling CBS he’d ac­cept fenc­ing in some ar­eas — but re­vived his prom­ise last week to a roar­ing crowd in Cincin­nati.

“We will con­struct a great wall at the border, dis­man­tle the crim­i­nal car­tel and lib­er­ate our com­mu­ni­ties from the epi­demic of gang vi­o­lence and drugs pour­ing into our na­tion,” Trump said.

The pres­i­dent-elect faces per­haps more po­lit­i­cal pres­sure to pro­duce re­sults on this is­sue than on any other. An Oct. 25-Nov. 8 Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll found that 79 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers back­ing him saw il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion as a “very big prob­lem.” Smaller per­cent­ages named other is­sues such as ter­ror­ism or jobs for work­ing-class Amer­i­cans.

A Pew poll in Au­gust found that 79 per­cent of Trump vot­ers want a wall along the en­tire border with Mex­ico, com­pared with just 38 per­cent of all reg­is­tered vot­ers.

Repub­li­cans in Congress say their plan for border se­cu­rity is more flex­i­ble.

“I think a wall is any­thing that will stop peo­ple from com­ing into the coun­try il­le­gally,” said Rep. Lou Bar­letta, a Pennsylvania Repub­li­can who has made curb­ing il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion a sig­na­ture is­sue. “It could be a va­ri­ety of what can be used to be suc­cess­ful.”

Democrats say a flex­i­ble ap­proach will be key to pass­ing a plan in the Se­nate next year, where 60 votes are needed to clear leg­is­la­tion but Repub­li­cans will con­trol at most 52 seats.

“If you’re just talk­ing about a wall, you’re wast­ing your time,” said Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Demo­crat on the Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee. “It’s got to be a com­bi­na­tion of a num­ber of things we’re al­ready do­ing — tech­nol­ogy, man­power and phys­i­cal con­struc­tion. I think we’re do­ing that now but we can be do­ing more.”

Democrats also in­sist on pro­tect­ing 750,000 young un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who are tem­po­rar­ily shielded from de­por­ta­tion un­der a 2012 ex­ec­u­tive or­der by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. Repub­li­can Sens. Lind­sey Gra­ham, of South Carolina, and Jeff Flake, of Arizona, also back that idea.

“We’re hop­ing there’s a dra­matic scal­ing back on the cam­paign rhetoric,” said Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.

Cur­rent law re­quires the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity to build re­in­forced fenc­ing along at least 700 miles of the border, although there’s no dead­line and the spe­cific lo­ca­tion, height or form of the fence isn’t man­dated. The agency re­ported in Oc­to­ber 2014 that it had con­structed about 353 miles of fenc­ing to keep out pedes­tri­ans and 299 miles of fenc­ing to keep out ve­hi­cles. This month, the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice said the agency still needed to con­struct al­most 50 miles of fenc­ing to meet the 700-mile re­quire­ment.

Congress’s last sig­nif­i­cant ac­tion on im­mi­gra­tion was in 2013, when the Se­nate — then con­trolled by Democrats — voted to cre­ate a path to le­gal sta­tus for 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants in the U.S. and spend $46 bil­lion to se­cure the Mex­i­can border. The Repub­li­can-dom­i­nated House didn’t take up the bill, as most in the GOP op­posed le­gal sta­tus.

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