On December 3rd —just that one day— 3,029 illegal immigrants were apprehended trying to enter the U.S. at our southern border. They crossed the Rio Grande. They scaled fences. They tried to come in at border crossings without permission, documentation or any legal right to do so. Our southern border is protected by thousands of Border Patrol agents, soldiers, law enforcement and a series of mainly patchwork barriers and fences. The question is: If that many were apprehended, how many were not?
When an immigrant attempts to come into the country through these means, they are doing so without going through inspection or processing. They are not claiming asylum. They are not requesting refugee status. They are merely breaking the law and, in doing so, circumventing any efforts to enter the country legally. Once they are caught, they have committed a crime and are now eligible for removal.
Disinformation Campaign of the Left
Some on the left say that illegal entry into the U.S. is not a crime. Some senators such as Kamala Harris (D-CA), CNN talking heads, and others either do not understand the law or choose to ignore it. These types of comments are irresponsible and encourage illegal immigration while also doing the American public a disservice. At one time, Senator Harris was the attorney general of California; she knows better.
The fact of the matter is, under 18 U.S.C. 3559 the government can charge a person entering the country illegally, even for first offenders, as a crime with up to six months imprisonment. Additional offenses or re-entries can be charged as a felony with up to two years imprisonment under 8 U.S.C. 1325.
So, with us all knowing there is a problem on the southern border, what do we do about it? The Trump administration says building a wall to protect the border and stem the massive flow of illegal immigration is the answer. President Trump ran on that proposal and so far, the Trump administration has had little success in getting it done.
Current State of the Border Wall Project
Construction has started, but mainly it has consisted of replacing dilapidated sections of the border fencing and other barriers. New fencing and barriers are going up but not the type of solid concrete wall as was proposed. The wall the president was talking about was more akin to a wall like the one that divided Berlin before the fall of the USSR.
Do walls work? Ronald Vitiello, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) acting deputy commissioner said, “The truth is walls work. The data shows it, and our agents know it.”
The Political Fight
The hot potato that is the funding for the border wall is one that neither party is handling well. The liberal left, mainly the Democrats, are fighting to halt the funding for the wall with everything they have, from delays to threats of shutting down the government. Just this week Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who is slated to become the next speaker of the House, called a border wall “immoral, ineffective, and expensive” and promised it would not be funded.
The Republican Party does not have enough votes at this point to get the wall funded on their own, and after the house changes hands in January, there will be no chance of the Democrat-controlled House funding it either. Even with the Republican majority in the Senate, there are still not enough votes to reach the required 60 without some Democrats coming along.
So, What is the Option?
President Trump, in a series of tweets on December 11, laid out his option to get the wall built regardless of funding. It may be only a veiled threat or a negotiation ploy, but it does have merit. The president tweeted:
….People do not yet realize how much of the Wall, including really effective renovation, has already been built. If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country, the Military will build the remaining sections of the Wall. They know how important it is!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 11, 2018
Now that is a novel idea. Does the military have the capability to build a wall like this? Is it something they have expertise in doing? Does the military even have the equipment to take on such a task? The answer to all those questions is a definite, yes. The military has the capability and has been assisting DHS in the current border security projects. The big question is: Can the president repurpose funds in the Department of Defense (DoD) budget to make it happen? There would be pushback, and it would take some meticulous reading of legislative authority, but it is indeed possible.
If DoD is given the task, there are a couple of directions in which the Pentagon could go. The repurposed money would likely receive pushback from Congress and be subject to legal challenges. The Pentagon could repurpose funds intended for counternarcotics programs, but there is not anything even close in that budget to fund the construction project. They could also exercise one of two authorities provided through DoD’s emergency military-construction funds. This would allow DoD to circumvent Congress’s power over military-construction projects.
This first option allows up to $50 million to be spent on construction projects for national security and the protection of U.S troops. The second emergency authority is only to be used in the event of a national emergency or a declaration of war. That option is off the table.
So, the most significant hurdle remains the same: funding. How much and where does it come from? As to actual construction, the military has a good amount of experience here. When I was in Afghanistan and Iraq, we were protected by T-walls. These are tall, about 12 to 30-feet-high concrete wall sections that stack and fit together like Legos. Every service member knows how well they hold up, how easy they are to set up, and how they can be moved and reconfigured.
The panels are normally made on site. The military sets up a concrete plant and pours the slabs right there on location. They then can be trucked to their final position and set upright with a crane. The building goes very quickly. The T-wall system is used at just about every U.S. base in conflict zones as well as used to protect embassies and important buildings.
Not Limited to the U.S.
Walls are used in many countries throughout the world, and they are increasingly being constructed to stem the flow of illegal migration in Europe, Spain, and elsewhere.
Sen. Ron Johnson, (R-WI), claimed during a Feb. 3 CNN interview that a border fence in Israel has drastically diminished illegal immigration along its southern border. “Israel … had a real problem with illegal immigrants coming in from the southern border, about 16,000 in one year. In two years, they constructed 143-mile fence, about $2.9 million per mile, and it cut that illegal immigration rate from about 16,000 to I think 18. Cut it by 99 percent,” Johnson said.
Other examples such as the fence Hungary constructed have had success as well. The border fencing system has slashed illegal immigration by over 99 percent. The system of border fences was constructed in response to the European migrant crisis.
Hungary responded to the migrant influx which burst upon Europe. More than two million refugees traveled to Europe in 2015 alone. When Germany’s Angela Merkel announced there was “no limit” on the number of asylum seekers her own country would accept, the Hungarian government decided to take measures to thwart the flow of illegal immigration. Rather than a solid wall, Hungary’s frontiers are protected by two fences augmented with watchtowers and patrolled by thousands of border guards. Hungary’s border fencing program has reduced illegal migration to a trickle of what it was. In 2015 up to 7,000 people were crossing illegally into Hungary every day. That number of daily crossings in early 2016 fell to just 116.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989, European countries have constructed or started 1,200 km (750 miles) of anti-immigrant fencing at the cost of at least 500 million euros ($570 million). The European governments’ decision to build fences is a simple solution. Building them is entirely legal, and countries have the right to control who enters their territory and to protect their sovereignty. Europe’s new fences have drastically curbed the numbers of irregular immigrants entering their countries wherever they are constructed. The success rate of the barriers in Hungary should provide an example as to the potential impact of building a southern wall in the U.S.
Could this be done here? Could our military build the fence/wall system to protect the southern border and, in turn, make the legal migration in the U.S. from the south more orderly? The answer is yes, it could, and I don’t know why it hasn’t been proposed earlier.