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By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
President Donald Trump has renewed his fight for border wall funding as the White House submitted its 2020 budget proposal to Congress on March 11. According to the New York Times, Trump has requested in the budget proposal $8.6 billion for border wall construction.
He is also asking Congress for another $3.6 billion to replenish military construction funds he has diverted to begin work on the wall by declaring a national emergency, for a total of $12.2 billion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made it clear that Congress will not approve these requests.
It’s important to understand that a budget submitted to Congress by the White House is more of a statement of values than an actual concrete plan for how taxpayer dollars will be collected and spent. Usually Congress doesn’t pay much attention to budget proposals, and it’s likely this will be the case with the latest submission from the White House.
Request for Border Wall Funding Not Intended as Compromise with Democrats
With the $12.2 billion request, President Trump is most likely intent on proving to his voter base his commitment to funding border fence construction, rather than seeking a compromise with Democrats. The current funding deal between the White House and Congress includes only $1.375 billion for border fence construction.
In response to the unwillingness of Congress to acquiesce to his demand for $5.7 billion in border fence construction funding, President Trump then declared a national emergency so he could divert Department of Defense and other funds towards the project. This includes $3.6 billion moved from a military construction fund and $3.1 billion diverted from a counternarcotics program and asset forfeiture fund. The House has voted to overturn the declaration, but even if the Senate approves it, President Trump will veto it.
Arizona Ranchers Doubtful that New Border Wall Will Stop Smugglers
In a growing sign of doubt over the potential effectiveness of the president’s border fence plan, even longtime and loyal Trump supporters are expressing concerns. Several ranchers along the Arizona border with Mexico expressed to the Los Angeles Times that they doubt expanded border fencing will stop smugglers unless the Border Patrol changes its policies, like deploying agents closer to the new barriers. Most of Arizona’s border is already fenced and the proposal for additional fencing involves sectors in Texas.
Border barriers are not designed to stop illegal crossers, whether they are immigrants or drug smugglers, by themselves. They are generally designed to slow down unauthorized cross-border traffic until Border Patrol agents can arrive and make apprehensions. This is accomplished through surveillance systems placed in conjunction with border barriers. These can include underground sensors, mobile surveillance units, cameras, and ground-based and aerial radar systems.
One Arizona rancher who lives about 30 miles from the border calls the barriers erected on a fellow rancher’s land “the greatest technological boondoggle on the border.” He added that the barriers show that “it doesn’t matter what you put on the border if you don’t have boots on the ground to monitor it.” Despite increased funding from the Department of Homeland Security for new Border Patrol hires, it can take up to two years or longer for a new recruit to go through training and complete a probationary period so he or she can work independently out in the field.
Arizona border ranchers have also complained that the few Border Patrol agents assigned to monitor areas on and near their property are usually stationary. As trafficking patterns have shifted towards more densely populated areas, so have agent patrols, moving them away from more rural areas. DHS statistics for both drug seizures and illegal immigrant apprehensions all indicate that the majority of drugs and migrants are passing through ports of entry near urban areas, which justifies the personnel shifts. However, the way that plans for additional border fencing are being put forth might erroneously lead someone to believe that a simple structure is all that is needed to prevent illegal traffic between the ports of entry.