In the midst of an 18-day partial government shutdown, on Tuesday President Donald Trump made the case for why the nation should spend $5.7 billion on a border wall.
“America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation. But, all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration,” the president said from the Oval Office. He argued that undocumented immigrants are a strain on public resources and “drive down” jobs and wages. “This is a humanitarian crisis—a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,” he said.
'This is a humanitarian crisis—a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,' he said.
Mr. Trump also said that illegal border crossers use children as pawns and noted that a third of women are assaulted on their way through Mexico to the border. Heroin takes the lives of 300 people every week, and 90 percent of it comes from across the border, he said.
“This is the cycle of human suffering I am determined to end,” Mr. Trump said. “This barrier is absolutely critical for border security.”
Despite the president’s insistence on a wall, the number of illegal border crossings have already been going down since 2000. According to the Center for Migration Studies, people who enter the country legally and overstay their visas account for about two-thirds of new undocumented immigrants, a pattern that began in 2007.
Sean Carroll, S.J., director of the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Ariz., said that an urgent humanitarian crisis on the border that the president did not mention in his speech has to do with Central American families asking for asylum. That will not be solved by a border wall, he said.
“We’ve been very concerned about how slow they have been to receive these families,” he said, noting that it takes a family an average of 14 to 16 days to be heard by Customs and Border Protection officials. During that time, the families are vulnerable to those that prey on migrants, Father Carroll said. Some are kidnapped and held for ransom, robbed or assaulted.
“A wall doesn’t help this problem. What we have here is a humanitarian crisis, not a crisis of national security,” he said. “What we need to do is address the root causes of migration. A wall doesn’t address the push factors.”
What we need to do is address the root causes of migration. A wall doesn’t address the push factors.
As far as drugs crossing the southern border, Pat Murphy, C.S.—a priest who runs the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana, Baja California—noted that most of the drugs come through points of entry. “If you put up a 500-foot wall, that doesn’t stop drug trafficking,” he told America, explaining that most of it comes in vehicles and is not detected by immigration officials. “We need better scanning.”
Father Carroll added that another way to address the drug issue is to deal with the demand for drugs in the United States.
The proposal from the Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Trump said, would improve drug detection and weapons, among other things. “We have requested more agents, immigration judges to process the sharp rise of unlawful migration fueled by our very strong economy,” he said. “Our plan also contains an urgent request for humanitarian assistance and medical support.”
Last month, two Guatemalan children—Jakelin Caal and Felipe Alonzo Gómez—died while in U.S. custody. Both showed signs of influenza, including vomiting, leading some to speculate that proper care would have saved their lives.
President Trump also cited a number of violent crimes in the United States involving undocumented immigrants. Ronil Singh, a California police officer, was killed the day after Christmas during a routine traffic stop. Marilyn Pharis, who had been a contractor with the Air Force, was brutally raped and killed by an undocumented immigrant in 2015.
Yet, Father Murphy said, most crimes in the United States are committed by U.S. citizens. A study by the Cato Institute found that undocumented immigrants were 25 percent less likely to commit murder than those born in the United States.
“You can’t pull one or two examples and generalize it for the whole population,” he said. “Their only ‘crime’ is being undocumented.”
Earlier this week, Mr. Trump seemed to have considered declaring a national emergency on the border, a move that may have allowed him to fund the border wall. But Kevin Appleby, senior director of the Center for Immigration Studies in New York, said such a move would not be based in reality.
“There’s no evidence of a threat. There’s no army, no organized group, no ISIS lobbing bombs over the fence,” he said in an interview with America. “This is just the administration using hyperbole to justify an unreasonable policy. The Trump administration plays it fast and loose with the facts.”
Amid the shutdown, Mr. Trump has also said he would visit the border. Ashley Feasley, director of migration policy and public affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said she was happy to hear it.
“I really hope he takes the time to see the community that’s there,” she said. “I’m hopeful that he looks at the humanitarian groups at the border. It’s a key and essential piece of really studying it and taking it all in.”
While the U.S. bishops acknowledge the need for border security and the right of nations to defend their borders, “a $25 billion wall is not synonymous with border security,” Ms. Feasley told America. “All of these people who are coming must be treated in a way that recognizes their human dignity.”
This story has been updated.