Four years on, it remains unfinished and unloved
The first thing I wanted to see in Texas was the wall. Over the last five years, that phrase had accumulated an awful weight hadn’t it? The Wall. Not exactly a bundle of laughs to think about, but the further south you go in Texas, the more The Wall is on people’s minds.
One of Trump’s first acts as President was Executive Order 13767. It was the formal declaration that aimed to turn a campaign slogan into a concrete reality. Years of Washington politicking followed. When Trump demanded the best part of $6 billion to fund The Wall in late 2018, disputes over this bill lead to a government shutdown that lasted 35 days — the longest in US history.
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At one point during the wrangling, Trump declared a National Emergency. Even Ann Coulter, perhaps the biggest, loudest immigration hawk in America, was unimpressed: “the only national emergency is that our President is an idiot.”
Near Laredo, The Wall was unbuilt. The surveyors have marked a potential route with short stakes and ribbon. It weaves and winds along a no man’s land between the riverbank and the nearest American building — a colossal looming shopping mall that taunts its impoverished southern neighbour. Next door was a dilapidated hotel whose only occupants were border patrol thermal imaging cameras. They identify would-be illegal aliens through the thick cane on their way to Tommy Hilfiger.
Donald Trump made building a wall one of his biggest campaign promises in 2016. But four years later, where is it?
At the US border with Mexico, even Republicans are opposed to the idea. pic.twitter.com/JAKCU0T0lq
— PoliticsJOE (@PoliticsJOE_UK) October 30, 2020
Danny Perales worked as a border agent for 30 years and lives in Laredo. He voted Trump in 2016, has already voted Trump in 2020 but is firmly opposed to a border wall. In his mind there’s no need for further barriers in and around this crossing, which is the busiest inland port of entry and also one of the oldest between Mexico and the US. When Danny started patrolling the border, he says there were 65 agents in total. By the time he retired, he was running a station which was the base of operations for more than 400 guys. Initially, the best technological support available to him came in the form of his own ears, listening for the snap of cane and hushed Spanish.
He maintains that the old methods, combined with technological advancements, are more than adequate to police Laredo’s border with its Mexican sister city, Nuevo Laredo. He thinks that The Wall should be built elsewhere. And he’s not alone. In South Texas, a truly bipartisan coalition of Democrats and Republicans has formed to oppose construction of the barrier. They all have their reasons. Danny’s reason, above all, was the Morelet’s seedeater, a prize bird for twitchers — easily disturbed by any wall building.
In Laredo, at least, the birds were lucky. Elsewhere along the southern border, there are 400 miles of The Wall. Hardly any of it was new, most of it being a replacement for older border defences built by older presidents.
Trump had promised that Mexico would pay for the wall. Instead, it cost taxpayers billions more than initial building contracts had promised. Trump’s wall cost five times more than fencing built under the Bush or Obama administrations. Attitudes to immigration across the country were softening — Danny was more representative of the population at large than Trump was.