More than any other legislative or executive achievement, President Donald Trump’s “wall” along the southern border of the United States is a monument to Trumpism and its policy of racial grievances.
Today, just days before the election that could topple Trump, some immigration advocates and legal experts have a message for the man who vowed to dismantle the president’s immigration legacy: Mr. Biden, tear down that wall.
“Trump’s border wall is just one more pretext to target immigrants and border communities,” said Dror Ladin, lawyer with the ACLU National Security Project. “The construction of this illegal border wall desecrated tribal lands, leveled the preservation of wildlife and destroyed border communities. Every illegal mile of wall must be torn down and the government must work with border communities to repair the damage that the construction of the wall has already inflicted.
Much of Trump’s legacy does not exist by law, but by executive order. Much like Trump did with his predecessor’s orders, Biden can reverse many of them with the stroke of his pen. The wall is different. Not only is it a physical fact of the landscape – steel and concrete cutting 371 miles of public and private land in half – but it is a statement of something authoritarians always assert: permanence. Prominent fascism scholar sees the wall as something Biden must destroy, lest he acquiesce.
“Biden has to do a lot of things, and that’s one of them,” said Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale and author of How Fascism Works. “The wall is simply symbolic. It’s like a Confederate monument. I can see people say, “OK, can’t we have these token arguments” but if you want to tackle a legacy of xenophobia – little kids chanting “build this wall” in front of their Mexican-American classmates – it’s hard to see how you can avoid facing this symbol of white nationalism.
The nativism that the manifested wall is deeply rooted in American history, long before Trump – by the time he took office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection estimated that about 580 miles of barrier were already in place on the along the 1954 mile mainland border with Mexico. Several activists interviewed for this article noted that the precursor authorities of the Wall, such as the REAL ID Act of 2005 and the Secure Fence Act of 2006, were passed with bipartisan support, reflecting a long-standing political consensus that encouraged or accepted nativism rather than confronting it. Biden voted for both bills, although REAL ID was incorporated into a much larger spending bill that all 100 Senators voted for.
“It is both Democrats and Republicans who have been responsible for the tragedy caused at our borders by the border wall,” said Vicki Gaubeca, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition. “But we’re hoping Biden can wake up and smell the coffee – not only stop building the border wall, as he has promised to do, but tear it down completely.” When we take it apart, it must be done in a responsible way that does not harm the environment further. “
Pedro Rios, the director of the US-Mexico border program for the American Friends Service Committee, also advocates “pulling down the border wall” and removing the authorities behind it. He insisted on heeding Democratic political decisions that helped pave the way for a wall he wants to demolish.
“It is important for a potential Biden administration to recognize that the current harm the Trump administration has done and continues to do with the construction of a border wall is in part the responsibility of the Democratic Party for voting in favor of these measures 15 years ago, ”said Rios.
Not all who express their dislike for the wall are calling for its destruction. The National Immigration Forum, for example, is not. Its chairman and chief executive, Ali Noorani, called the wall “a distraction which, frankly, only the margins like to shout.” Although Noorani does not see the wall as effective for border security, he says, “We will stay focused on what smart politics are. [goals]: Technology [and] the power of the person at the border to keep the wrong things out but to facilitate the flow of commerce, immigration and tourism. “
While they may agree that the wall is a humanitarian, environmental, and legal nightmare for potential immigrants, landowners, and Native American tribes, some advocates say their primary goal is to dismantle the legal and procedural barriers that the Trump administration has has constructed – rather than literals.
“The kind of paper and legal walls that the administration has put in place for immigration are perhaps even more damaging, in many ways,” said Yael Schacher, senior counsel at Refugees International, who predicts that a potential Biden administration will choose to lower the funding barrier and let nature take its course, rather than proactively removing most of the barriers.
“He will get rid of some contracts, stop trying to grab more land, settle those eminent domain lawsuits,” Schacher said. “If you want to start breaking down the barriers I would say it’s probably only going to be in the places where there has been really obvious and severe environmental damage … But I think it’s going to be like a moratorium and then change the discourse on asylum and people arriving at the border with a more humanitarian approach. “
In his 22-page immigration plan, Biden pledged to “immediately end Trump’s assault on the dignity of immigrant communities” and restore the nation’s “moral standing” by demanding the America’s history as a refuge for refugees and asylum seekers. But he did not approve the abolition of the existing barriers along the border. The Biden campaign did not respond to requests for comment on the future of the wall.
Reorienting funding for the construction of the reinforced border fence towards more effective border control operations, such as improved control at points of entry, is a key part of this plan – as is Biden’s pledge not to not build a single extra mile of Trump’s wall.
“Building a sea-to-sea wall is not a serious political solution – it is a waste of money, and it diverts critical resources from real threats,” Biden’s position paper on ‘immigration.
But even with the rescinding of Trump’s “stay in Mexico” policy and the reopening of ports of entry for asylum seekers that Biden has promised, advocates say, there are legitimate humanitarian concerns about the border wall. as a permanent obstacle at the southern border of the United States. .
“If you have more barriers erected at common crossings, you force people to cross into much more dangerous areas,” said Gregory Chen, senior director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “This means that people who suffer from extreme temperatures, dehydration, are severely traumatized, and even die, in the effort to cross the United States.”
The wall has not yet reached the port city of Laredo, but locals see its impending encroachment. A month ago, Customs and Border Protection and the US Army Corps of Engineers announced two construction contracts in Laredo. One of them, for more than $ 280 million, went to the Fisher Sand and Gravel company, connected to Trump. Laredo resident Melissa Cigarroa owns land in neighboring Zapata County on which the government has expressed interest in building the wall.
But for Cigarroa, who is a member of the No Border Wall-Laredo coalition, the greatest obscenity is what the wall means to Laredo’s culture.
“It has always been this international community. Nuevo Laredo, across the river [in Mexico], has always been part of the family. Even today, many families have relatives on the other side, ”she said. “It’s very painful because it separates a lot of families. It’s just such an insult and an attack on our heritage and our identity.
With Laredo under imminent threat of building walls, Cigarroa’s immediate goal is for Biden to sign a first-day decree codifying his pledge not to build new walls. (“I would accept the second day,” she allowed.) But she wants it all to go away. “It’s incredibly destructive to these ecosystems, it is tearing apart First Peoples lands which are ancient and sacred,” Cigarroa said. “In the Rio Grande valley, it separates the neighborhoods from the southern part of the wall, as if we were ceding them to Mexico.”
Stanley of Yale urged Biden not only to dismantle the wall, but to integrate the dismantling into a “larger education campaign to explain the toxic forces the Trump administration has unleashed, which were already present in the American body politic.” , did he declare. “If we let them simmer, the next Trump will be worse.”
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