What is the fight over Trump's US-Mexican border wall about?

2019-01-08 22:47

President Donald Trump has partially shut down the US government and is threatening to declare a national emergency as he pressures Congress for money to build a wall on the US-Mexican border to stem a surge in illegal immigrants.

Trump, who is to make a national address on Tuesday night on the "crisis", says the country is being flooded with drugs and violent gangs. Trump's opponents say he is exaggerating the issue and that a massive wall is inefficient and not worth closing the government for.

Is there an immigration crisis?

Illegal immigration from impoverished Central America - mainly Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala - has surged even as that from neighboring Mexico has slowed.

Many migrants arrive as families or unaccompanied children, hoping to gain a foothold in the country. When caught, most are processed by the authorities and then released pending a court date. US authorities say they are mostly never seen again as they meld into US society.

In the 2016 election, Trump promised voters to stop illegal immigration by building a wall along the  3 200 kilometre US-Mexico frontier.

After a slowdown in 2017, migrant numbers surged last year, reaching their highest levels since 2014 in October and November, with 2 000 a day being caught sneaking into the country.

Most of them request asylum based on the poverty and pervasive violence they face in their home countries.

Their numbers have overwhelmed the ability of the Customs and Border Protection to house and process them, and many are just released.

Meanwhile, some 15 000 unaccompanied children are held in resettlement camps while officials seek homes to place them in.

Is the migrant surge a security threat?

Trump has said repeatedly that without a wall, drug smugglers and violent gangs like MS-13 easily cross into the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says a wall would help prevent potential terrorists from entering the country. She says the Border Patrol has intercepted some 3 000 suspicious migrants on the southern border.

"I am sure all Americans would agree that one terrorist reaching our borders is one too many," she said on Monday.

But narcotics experts say most drugs are shipped through official ports and the wall won't make much difference.

And Nielsen would not say if any proven terrorists had been arrested at the southern border or had crossed it to successfully enter the country.

What does Trump want?

Trump wants to make good on his promise to build a wall.

Several hundred million dollars has already been spent to replace old fences and walls in some heavily-travelled areas, like the westernmost part of the border between Tijuana and San Diego.

In addition, surveillance by patrols, cameras and drones has increased.

Together they have helped reduce illegal crossings in the area.

In a letter to Congress on Sunday, the White House demanded $5.7bn for 377 km of new wall and fence, more than double the $2.5bn Congressional leaders have offered in compromise.

"A physical barrier - wall - creates an enduring capability that helps field personnel stop, slow down, and/or contain illegal entries," said the letter.

The White House also asked for hundreds of millions of dollars for more immigration judges, border and interior enforcement agents, shelter for detained migrants, and drug enforcement.

Why won't politicians fund it?

Both Democrats and Republicans have regarded Trump's wall project as excessive, expensive and inefficient in dealing with the problem.

They dismiss claims that a border without a wall is a major security threat.

"On terrorism and other threats, I've received more briefings from FBI, CIA, and DHS than I could count," said Adam Schiff, the chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, on Tuesday.

"How many times have any of them said we need a wall across the southern border?"

Democrats also say that any broader discussion on the illegal immigration problem should take place only after the government is reopened.

They want a comprehensive deal that would include a plan to create a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, including the so-called DACA/Dreamer programme for people who arrived in the country as children.

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Read more on:    donald trump  |  mexico  |  us
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