‘Al­most def­i­nitely’: Trump to call bor­der na­tional emer­gency

As the US gov­ern­ment shut­down en­ters a third week, both sides play a high-stakes game

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - CAMERON STE­WART

Don­ald Trump says he will al­most cer­tainly de­clare a na­tional emer­gency on bor­der se­cu­rity if Democrats do not reach a deal over fund­ing for a bor­der wall.

In his strong­est com­ments yet, the US Pres­i­dent made it clear that he was lean­ing to­ward the con­tro­ver­sial so­lu­tion af­ter the col­lapse of ne­go­ti­a­tions this week to end the three-week US gov­ern­ment shut­down.

“I have an ab­so­lute right to de­clare a na­tional emer­gency,” Mr Trump said as he de­parted for Texas yes­ter­day for a visit to the US-Mex­ico bor­der.

“If this doesn’t work out, prob­a­bly I’ll do it. I would al­most say def­i­nitely.

“If we don’t make a deal I would say it would be very sur­pris­ing to me that I would not de­clare a na­tional emer­gency.”

By declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency, the Pres­i­dent could use Pen­tagon money to fund the $US5.7 bil­lion ($7.9bn) he is de­mand­ing to build the first sec­tion of his promised bor­der wall.

It would mean he would not have to seek Demo­crat ap­proval for the money thereby break­ing the fund­ing im­passe that has shut­down the gov­ern­ment.

But Democrats say such a move would be an abuse of pres­i­den­tial ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers be­cause there is no emer­gency at the bor­der, and they have vowed to op­pose any such de­ci­sion in the courts.

Mr Trump said White House lawyers had ad­vised him that he did have the le­gal right to de­clare a na­tional emer­gency.

But he said his favoured op­tion was still to strike a fund­ing deal with the Democrats that in­cluded fund­ing for the wall. How­ever, he was pes­simistic about the chances of such a deal.

“It would be nice if we could make a deal. But deal­ing with these peo­ple is ridicu­lous. I don’t know if they know how to make a deal,” the Pres­i­dent said.

Mr Trump was speak­ing a day af­ter he walked out of a meet­ing with Demo­crat lead­ers Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer af­ter they re­fused to con­sider any bill to fund the gov­ern­ment that in­cluded money for a bor­der wall.

House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Speaker Ms Pelosi said yes­ter­day she be­lieves the Pres­i­dent set up the meet­ing with the aim of walk­ing out of it.

“It wasn’t even a high-stakes ne­go­ti­a­tion,” she said.

“It was a petu­lant Pres­i­dent of the United States, a per­son who would say, ‘I’ll keep gov­ern­ment shut down for weeks, months or years un­less I get my way’. ”

Mr Trump de­scribed the meet­ing as “a to­tal waste of time” and he claimed yes­ter­day that the Democrats were un­der more pres­sure to come to a deal than con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans.

“I think there’s far more pres- sure on them, be­cause the peo­ple of our coun­try want se­cu­rity, we want to be a se­cure coun­try,” the Pres­i­dent said.

Although some se­nior Repub­li­cans have ex­pressed con­cern about the shut­down, Mr Trump claimed the party was “ex­tremely united” about de­mand that fund­ing for the wall be ap­proved.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen unity like this in the Re­pub­li­can Party,” he said.

The on­go­ing gov­ern­ment shut­down, which to­day en­ters its 21st day, prompted Mr Trump yes­ter­day to can­cel his planned trip to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Davos later this month.

The Pres­i­dent vis­ited Texas yes­ter­day to fur­ther ramp up his ar­gu­ment that there is a hu­man­i­tar­ian and na­tional se­cu­rity cri­sis at the bor­der.

“I will tell you this is a tremen­dous cri­sis at the bor­der,” he said.

“You have hu­man traf­fick­ing, you have drugs, you have crim­i­nals com­ing in, you have gangs, MS-13 .. they go in be­tween check­points where you don’t have any bar­ri­ers.”

He por­trayed the wall — which the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity es­ti­mates will cost $US21.6 bil­lion to build — as a po­ten­tial cost sav­ing mea­sure.

“If we have the wall, we could have far fewer peo­ple work­ing in terms of bor­der se­cu­rity, and do­ing and even bet­ter job,’ he said.

“So if we had the wall, we could have a tremen­dous sav­ing. I re­ally be­lieve a steel bar­rier would pay for it­self every three or four months.”

‘It was a petu­lant pres­i­dent of the United States’ NANCY PELOSI HOUSE SPEAKER

To un­der­stand just how much pol­i­tics is be­ing played in Wash­ing­ton over Don­ald Trump’s pro­posed bor­der wall, you need only look back to 2006.

In that year congress acted to curb il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings from Mex­ico into the US by pass­ing the Se­cure Fence Act au­tho­ris­ing the con­struc­tion of 1050km of bar­ri­ers along the bor­der — roughly one-third of the al­most 3200km bor­der.

Vot­ing in favour of that par­tial bor­der wall were fu­ture Demo­crat lead­ers and then sen­a­tors Barack Obama, Hil­lary Clin­ton, Joe Bi­den and Chuck Schumer.

“The bill be­fore us will cer­tainly do some good,” Obama said on the Sen­ate floor in Oc­to­ber 2006. He said the law would pro­vide “bet­ter fences and bet­ter se­cu­rity along our bor­ders” and would “help stem some of the tide of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion in this coun­try”.

As pres­i­dent, it was Obama who built most of the present 1050km bar­rier along the bor­der.

But to­day’s Demo­crat lead­ers, who still in­clude Schumer, say Trump’s pro­posed wall — this time along the en­tire US-Mex­ico bor­der — is now “im­moral”.

Demo­crat house Speaker Nancy Pelosi says: “A wall is an im­moral­ity be­tween coun­tries. It’s an old way of think­ing. It isn’t cost­ef­fec­tive. We’re not do­ing a wall.”

As Re­pub­li­can Sen­ate ma­jor­ity leader Mitch Mc­Connell noted this week: “Maybe the Demo­cratic Party was for se­cure bor­ders be­fore they were against them. Or maybe they’re just mak­ing it up as they go along. Or maybe they are that dead­set on op­pos­ing this par­tic­u­lar Pres­i­dent on any is­sue, for any rea­son, just for the sake of op­pos­ing him.”

As Wash­ing­ton tears it­self apart over Trump’s pro­posed wall, the pol­i­tics of the is­sue has all but trounced any sober de­bate about the prac­ti­cal chal­lenges and ben­e­fits of the wall it­self.

The po­lit­i­cal stakes sud­denly have be­come sky-high be­cause the dead­lock be­tween Democrats and Repub­li­cans over fund­ing for the wall is at the cen­tre of what this week­end will be­come the long­est gov­ern­ment shut­down in US his­tory. Yes­ter­day Trump said un­less a deal could be reached, he was al­most cer­tain to de­clare a na­tional emer­gency on bor­der se­cu­rity which would al­low him to use Pen­tagon funds to pay for the wall rather than rely on con­gres­sional ap­proval from Democrats.

Democrats have cho­sen to por­tray Trump’s wall as the sin­gle great­est folly of his pres­i­dency, a bar­rier that would speak more to racism and divi­sion than to the Amer­i­can tra­di­tion of wel­com­ing asy­lum-seek­ing im­mi­grants.

It is an at­tempted moral high ground that is at odds with the party’s own po­si­tion in 2006 and that also re­flects the Democrats’ will­ing­ness to play down the prob­lem of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion to iso­late the Pres­i­dent.

Yet Trump is equally un­sub­tle in his po­lit­i­cal spin over the im­por­tance of the wall. His first Oval Of­fice ad­dress to the na­tion this week was rid­dled with alarmist ex­ag­ger­a­tions about what he called a “grow­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian and na­tional se­cu­rity cri­sis at our south­ern bor­der”.

Trump ig­nored the fact the num­ber of il­le­gal im­mi­grants ap­pre­hended for cross­ing the bor­der hit a 46-year low in 2017 and is now only half the level it was in 2007. He also blamed il­le­gal bor­der crossers for fu­elling crime and the opi­oid epi­demic — claims that are in­con­sis­tent with a broad range of stud­ies.

Yet il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion is a gen­uine prob­lem in the US as at least 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented mi­grants are es­ti­mated to be liv­ing in the coun­try. Although the num­ber of mi­grants caught for cross­ing the bor­der has plum­meted since 2000, un­der­min­ing Trump’s claim of a cri­sis, there were still al­most 400,000 ap­pre­hended last year. US im­mi­gra­tion and bor­der laws are woe­fully in­ad­e­quate and they do not al­low for any­thing like the sort of bor­der se­cu­rity en­joyed by Aus­tralia.

The key prac­ti­cal ques­tions about Trump’s bor­der wall are whether it is lo­gis­ti­cally pos­si­ble, af­ford­able and ef­fec­tive. Trump wants to build at least 1600km of new wall to com­ple­ment the ex­ist­ing 1050km along the bor­der.

The first half of the US bor­der cuts across Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona and New Mex­ico fol­low­ing mostly straight lines, but in Texas the bor­der is marked by the wind­ing Rio Grande, which snakes its way for 1900km and would re­quire a feat of en­gi­neer­ing to build a wall along it. What’s more, only about one-third of the US bor­der with Mex­ico is owned by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment; the rest is con­trolled by the states, Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes or is pri­vately owned. To build the wall, Wash­ing­ton must forcibly ac­quire the land it does not own, guar­an­tee­ing pro­tracted le­gal fights.

Of more con­cern to congress is the cost. The US gov­ern­ment is par­tially shut down over the Democrats’ re­fusals to agree to Trump’s de­mand for $US5.7 bil­lion ($7.9bn) to fund 377km of a “new phys­i­cal bar­rier”. Repub­li­cans be­lieve the cost of the to­tal wall would be about $US12bn while the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity has es­ti­mated $US21.6bn. The cost of the wall is a ma­jor stick­ing point, even for many Repub­li­cans, when the US deficit has bal­looned and is on track to top $US1 tril­lion this year.

Given the prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties and the price tag of the wall, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as early as 2017 qui­etly adopted a more prag­matic ap­proach, even if Trump did not al­ways agree. Of­fi­cials have largely in­ter­preted Trump’s wall as a catch-all de­scrip­tion for a range of mea­sures to tighten bor­der se­cu­rity short of a com­plete wall from coast to coast. When he was home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary in 2017, John Kelly said a wall would be built only where it “makes sense” and this would be sup­ple­mented with other mea­sures such as greater elec­tronic or hu­man sur­veil­lance.

Faced with the present Demo­crat hos­til­ity to the con­cept of a wall, Trump this week tried to mas­sage the term to make it more po­lit­i­cally palat­able for the Democrats. Dur­ing his White House ad­dress he de­scribed the wall as a “phys­i­cal bar­rier” and that “at the re­quest of Democrats, it will be a steel bar­rier rather than a con­crete wall”.

Trump’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to de­mand fund­ing for the wall ap­pears to be driven more by his po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances than by a be­lief that there is a gen­uine cri­sis at the bor­der. As Pres­i­dent, he has sought to im­ple­ment his elec­tion prom­ises when­ever pos­si­ble, but the wall — his sig­na­ture elec­tion prom­ise — so far has eluded him.

With Trump ap­proach­ing the half­way mark of his term, he ap­pears to be con­cerned about a back­lash from his base in 2020 if he doesn’t at least start to build the wall. Last month, when he flirted briefly with avoid­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down by sep­a­rat­ing fund­ing for the wall from the spend­ing bill, he was sav­aged by con­ser­va­tive al­lies. Con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Ann Coul­ter called him “gut­less” and said she would not vote for Trump in 2020 un­less he de­liv­ered on the wall. “Nor will, I think, most of his sup- porters. Why would you?” she said. This back­lash is what drove Trump to his hard­line po­si­tion on fund­ing the wall re­gard­less of the gov­ern­ment shut­down.

The ques­tion of whether a sin­gle wall stretch­ing from coast to coast would be ef­fec­tive is hotly de­bated. Trump says it is “com­mon sense” that a 9m-high wall along the bor­der would be “crit­i­cally im­por­tant” in slow­ing the flow of il­le­gal en­tries into the US. This is true, but only if the wall was sup­ported by sig­nif­i­cant and costly new in­fra­struc­ture in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous new cam­eras and more bor­der agents to catch those who tried to climb over or un­der it. As Obama’s sec­re­tary for home­land se­cu­rity, Janet Napoli­tano, once said: “Show me a 50foot wall and I’ll show you a 51foot lad­der.”

Democrats ar­gue that money for a wall is bet­ter spent on other forms of bor­der se­cu­rity, in­clud­ing more agents and bet­ter sur­veil­lance.

Trump claimed this week that a bor­der wall would help cur­tail the flow of il­le­gal drugs into the US that is feed­ing the coun­try’s opi­oid epi­demic.

But the most deadly drug of the epi­demic, fen­tanyl, is mostly im­ported into the US from China and those drugs that are largely brought through the south­ern bor­der, such as heroin, are largely smug­gled through es­tab­lished en­try points rather than through un­fenced parts of the bor­der.

The Pres­i­dent also claimed it would help stop crim­i­nals from en­ter­ing the coun­try, although stud­ies con­sis­tently show that un­doc­u­mented mi­grants are sig­nif­i­cantly less likely to com­mit crimes than na­tive-born Amer­i­cans.

Although Trump has ex­ag­ger­ated the no­tion of a cri­sis at the bor­der, he was elected on a plat­form of crack­ing down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion via all means, in­clud­ing a wall. He is en­ti­tled to pur­sue those prom­ises as part of his man­date re­gard­less of how much it an­noys his op­po­nents.

The real ques­tion is whether he should be hold­ing the gov­ern­ment to ran­som by link­ing his de­mands with the spend­ing bill, thereby cre­at­ing the dead­lock that has partly shut down the gov­ern­ment.

Whether or not a wall is a good idea, polls show that Amer­i­cans sup­port stronger bor­der se­cu­rity.

US im­mi­gra­tion and bor­der laws are ad hoc and weak, and they man­i­festly have failed to pre­vent il­le­gal cross­ings at the south­ern bor­der. When a mi­grant is ap­pre­hended af­ter il­le­gally cross­ing the bor­der they are usu­ally re­leased and given a dis­tant court date to hear their case for asy­lum. They often do not turn up at court but sim­ply stay in the US as one of its 11 mil­lion-plus un­doc­u­mented mi­grants. For those who choose to ap­ply for asy­lum through le­gal en­try points, they often wait years for their case to be heard be­cause of an enor­mous back­log of cases.

Trump’s bor­der se­cu­rity pro­posal in­volves a broad range of mea­sures in­clud­ing more im­mi­gra­tion judges, bor­der guards, sur­veil­lance and de­ten­tion beds. Iron­i­cally, the Democrats agree with many of these mea­sures.

But it is Trump’s wall — the cen­tral sym­bol of his pres­i­dency — that threat­ens to di­vide Wash­ing­ton well be­yond this gov­ern­ment shut­down.

US im­mi­gra­tion and bor­der laws are woe­fully in­ad­e­quate and they do not al­low for any­thing like the sort of bor­der se­cu­rity en­joyed by Aus­tralia


Don­ald Trump took his case for fund­ing of the bor­der wall to Amer­i­cans this week, de­liv­er­ing his first tele­vised ad­dress from the Oval Of­fice

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