Since the 2016 presidential election, President Donald Trump's border wall has become a symbol of American nationalism and “border security.” Discourse about immigration has been largely shaped by the notion of a wall, and the Democratic response has been a weak “no wall” rhetoric. Last week, funding for the wall was negotiated in Congress to $1.4 billion, down from the $5.7 billion that Trump had asked for during the last government shutdown. This enabled an appropriations bill to pass Congress, which averted another government shutdown. Democrats celebrated the appropriations bill because it provided less funding for the wall, but in fact it was Donald Trump who was ultimately victorious—Democrats fell for his wall trap.
While the bill only appropriated $1.4 billion for the wall, it appropriated over $12.1 billion for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and over $7.5 billion for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (CBP). Coupled together, these two immigration agencies have almost $20 billion of funding to detain and deport people. Using the deportation apparatus is consistent with Trump’s animosity toward immigration and achieves his goal of removing undocumented immigrants from the country. Interestingly, the long-standing structure of the deportation apparatus might be more effective at realizing Trump’s immigration goals than an ineffective border wall. The dominant narrative of the wall as being representative of the entire immigration system has distracted Democrats from challenging Trump in other areas of immigration such as funding for ICE and CBP. Since there is no popular discourse about ICE and CBP in Congress or in the media, Democrats were able to quietly fund these agencies without suffering political loss and claim political victory by reducing funding for the wall.
Trump’s victory will have disastrous consequences for immigrant communities across the country. $20 billion will enable ICE and CBP to remove thousands of people between now and Sept. 30. In the process, thousands of families will be separated, communities will be torn apart, and some migrants might even die in the hands of ICE and CBP. Just last week, a Mexican migrant died in the custody of CBP. Two months ago, a 7-year-old girl and an 8-year-old-boy also died in the hands of CBP. ICE detention centers are also notorious hotspots for migrant deaths.
According to United We Dream, a youth-led immigrant rights organization, between 2003 to 2018, ICE spending grew by 85 percent, from $3.3 billion to $7.4 billion. Similarly, funding for CBP experienced dramatic growth, from $5.9 billion in 2003 to $16.3 billion in 2018, with the number of border agents doubling from FY 2003 to FY 2016. Funding for these agencies has been part of the immigration debate for longer than a border wall has, yet Trump’s message about the wall hid the impact of these agencies from Democrats. As a result, Democratic leadership in Congress fell for Trump’s wall distraction and ultimately voted to indirectly fund Trump’s immigration policies by providing almost $20 billion of funding for ICE and CBP.
Democrats should not support massive funding for ICE and CBP to deport thousand of people. Funding should go to find real solutions, like addressing the documented backlog of immigration cases in immigration courts. Those issues are the real wall impeding immigrants from feeling secure, not the border wall. The border wall is not the essence of (or solution to) America’s immigration problem; it is just the most visible aspect of it. That is why it has been so politically effective for Trump to rally support for it and for Democrats to rally opposition against it. However, the massive funding received by ICE and CBP is largely a silent Trump victory rather than a loud Democratic victory.
Michael Hernandez is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.