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For the past four years, our nation’s immigration policy was the equivalent of a “Keep Out” sign on the front yard. That didn’t stop desperate migrants from seeking refuge.
The border wall was the physical embodiment of that policy. It was the top priority for the previous administration, and the most motivating issue for the Republican base, who were promised that Mexico would pay for construction.
Former President Donald Trump routinely battled with members of Congress, including those from his own party, over funding for the wall. That dispute led to a 35-day shutdown of the federal government in 2018, the longest in our nation’s history.
Trump resolved the dispute when he gave up on budgeting new money and decided instead to divert money that had already been budgeted for other purposes. He took $3.6 billion intended for military projects throughout the world, and funneled it all to the southern border.
Money diverted from New Mexico bases included $40 million approved for a new information systems facility at White Sands Missile Range; $85 million for a training facility and $4.2 million for a ground control facility at Holloman Air Force Base; $42 million for a new cargo pad and facility at Cannon Air Force Base; and $16.3 million for security improvements at Kirtland Air Force Base.
It is estimated that by the time he left office, Trump had spent about $15 billion and completed some 738 miles of new barrier. None of that has been successful.
Despite that massive investment, the Border Patrol has reported a record number of apprehensions at the southern border this year. There are more migrant children in federal shelters now than ever before.
Last week, new President Joe Biden pulled the plug on the whole operation. He announced that they would end contracts for wall construction, and return money that had been diverted back to the Department of Defense.
Beyond that, they also announced that they would spend some of the $1.4 billion appropriated for wall construction to repair environmental damage caused by the wall.
It is, obviously, the height of wasteful spending to halt a project midway through, but this project never should have been started.
The notion that we were going to build an impenetrable wall the length of the southern border to solve our immigration problem was always going to work better at campaign rallies than in reality. And, the notion that we would bully Mexico into paying for a wall intended to keep their citizens out was simply absurd.
The border wall was always more about symbolism than security. It was a message to not only those in Mexico but all of our southern neighbors that America has become a gated community.
Along with halting construction of the wall, Biden has also ended the remain in Mexico policy that had been imposed by Trump. That has led to a temporary crisis at the border, with more unaccompanied children flowing in than the system can accommodate.
The solution is not a wall, but rather investment in shelters that will allow unaccompanied children to be housed humanely; and in immigration courts that will allow for their cases to be resolved quickly, followed by speedy removal of those who do not qualify for asylum.
The wall was a simplistic attempt to solve a complicated problem. Now we need to get serious.
Walter Rubel can be reached at email@example.com