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A Wall on the Southern Border

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A wall on the southern border between the United States has been one of the most controversial topics in recent years. There has been border walls at the southern border since 1993 when President Clinton had a 13-mile wall built between San Diego and Tijuana to reduce illegal border crossings. The passage of NAFTA resulted in heightened illegal border crossings due to new job opportunities. A few years after NAFTAs passing, President Clinton approved more fence construction and patrols along the border to try to lower these crossings. After 9/11, the security of the United States became a great issue. In the years following President Bush raised the amount of border patrols, promised more fencing along the border, and a virtual wall across the entire border. Under President Obama about 650 miles of barriers were constructed on the border and President Bush’s virtual wall had funding cuts. Over the years following massive numbers of refugees and immigrants made their way towards the southern border, not always crossing legally.

In 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the President of the United States. In his announcement speech he claimed that he would build a wall and that he would make Mexico pay for the wall. Throughout the campaign he continued to make the claim that Mexico would pay for a wall along the border. This became one of the biggest issues of the campaign and continues to this day to be a big issue. There is still only about 650 miles of border wall along the southern border. There has been construction of barriers to replace the old barriers but there has not been any new construction. As time has gone on President Trump has went away from his promise that Mexico would build the wall. Instead he has used actions such as requesting funds in the yearly budget and declaring a national emergency. There have been many who have had an influence during this process to get us where we are today.

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The biggest players in the fight over whether there should be a border wall are wide ranging. The most important are President Trump and his advisors, Congress, agencies patrolling the border, immigrants and refugees, the media, and think tanks.

For President Trump and his advisors, the campaign promise of having Mexico pay for the wall was the original goal. He used his reputation as a deal maker to convince Americans that he would be able to achieve this. Upon entering office, President Trump signed an executive order that directed the government to begin constructing the wall using federal funds. A few days after signing the executive order, tariffs against Mexico at 20% were announced causing the Mexican President to cancel a meeting with President Trump. After this apparent failure to get Mexico to pay for the wall, the Trump administration requested funding for the wall in the yearly budget. Republicans in Congress who supported the Presidents view proposed funding in 2017 to start the construction of the wall. Democrats in Congress were able to block the proposal with the help of Republicans who opposed the cost of the wall. The failure to push through funding led to President Trump threatening to shut down the government unless funding was approved. In early 2018, Customs and Border Protection proposed funding for the next ten years to help build the wall. This agency and ICE have been fierce proponents of the need of a border wall, saying that it will help stop the flow of illegal immigration and prevent drugs from crossing the border into the United States. The anti-immigration think tank Center for Immigration Studies supported this claim by producing a study that claimed a wall could save almost $70 billion dollars by reducing crime and the cost of helping undocumented immigrants. In 2018, the Build the Wall, Enforce the Law Act was proposed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, which called for around $25 billion in funding to build the wall and enforce immigration laws. It included cutting funds for sanctuary cities and making it easier to deport illegal immigrants. This bill was not passed, and the wall was not funded. This led to a government shutdown of about a month in length. It was during this shutdown that President Trump admitted that Mexico would not pay for the wall. In February of 2019, President Trump declared a national emergency on the southern border to get construction under way. Since this declaration, there have been many fights over funding. There has been some funding freed up and other funds authorized. Congress has tried to block it multiple times, but each time President Trump has vetoed it.

The policy window theory can be used to look at a border wall. The first major policy window happened after 9/11. The most devastating terrorist attack in the United States had just happened and everyone was scared and looking to prevent the next one. Eyes turned towards the southern border and who exactly was coming over that border. This led to President Bush looking to ensure that we were safe in this area causing him to request fencing and to start patrolling the border more. The window was slightly closed during President Obamas presidency but was still cracked. President Trump burst that window open when he announced his run for presidency. He brought the issue of a border wall to the forefront of political discussion and has kept it there throughout his presidency thus far.

The social constructions and target populations theory is also relevant to a border wall. President Trump has constructed a target population for support of a border wall. He has gone after the forgotten man of America, those who believe that they aren’t able to get a job or are losing the opportunity at getting a job because of immigrants coming from Mexico. He helped villainize immigrants and gain support for his wall. These things are also examples of the degenerative politics theory. He was successfully able to send signals about his targeted groups and it helped him get elected and gain support for his border wall policy.

There are many areas of research on a border wall. There are some that would make arguments for and against the border wall. The research questions that I chose give information that would let those interested know if a border wall is a viable option for the entire border based on parts of the border that already have sections of wall. The first research question is, have the amount of illegal border crossings gone down along the border after sections of wall were built?. This would give information on if existing wall is working or not. The second research question is, have administrations with stricter immigration policies decreased the number of illegal border crossings compared to administrations with weaker immigration policies?. This would give information on if stronger policies on immigration decrease the number of illegal border crossings more than weaker policies. The third research question is, does a wall have an impact on the environment after it has been built?. This is important information because if it has had an impact on the environment than building a wall along the entire border could cause significant damage to the ecosystem and what the border area looks like as a whole. The fourth research question is, have walls built in other countries to decrease illegal immigration been successful?. This would be more of a historical research question and could use information from the previous suggested research questions to look at how successful border walls have been in countries such as Israel. The final research question is, what is the opinion of citizens living on the border with Mexico on a border wall and how has it changed over time?. This would give information on how actual citizens feel about the issue and how over time their views have changed if they have changed. 

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