President Trump gave a prime-time address Tuesday evening to make his case that Congress should provide funding for a wall on the US-Mexico border. Trump’s Oval Office address comes on the 18th day of the government shutdown, which has incapacitated federal agencies and departments from the IRS to the National Parks to the food stamp program.
Trump will follow up his Oval Office address by visiting the US-Mexico border town of McAllen, Texas, on Thursday. There, Trump will have to confront one of the biggest challenges in building support for his wall: The people who live on the border say there is no national emergency and they don’t want a wall.
McAllen’s Mayor Jim Darling deals with the daily realities of immigration on one of Texas’s busiest border-crossing areas. Darling told the Texas Standard that while the media is hyper-focused on undocumented immigrants, the people he sees at respite centers are coming into the country legally to seek asylum.
Darling could hardly disagree more with President Trump over the idea that his town is experiencing a crisis or “national emergency.” In fact, last year Darling called McAllen “the overall safest city in Texas and one of the safest in the US.”
Moreover Mayor Darling points out that nearly 40 percent of the city’s sales tax revenue — the second highest in the state — comes from shoppers from Mexico, who cross the border peaceably and contribute to the local economy.
Mayor Darling is in favor of border security and says Washington should get behind “immigration reform,” but he argues that Trump’s border wall is useless since the Rio Grande acts as a natural border. “We know where our border is and we have one,” Darling says. “A wall is really not the effective way to protect our border.”
Darling argues that wall construction would significantly damage the sensitive ecology and private property of residents. Darling also believes environmental impact reports shouldn’t be waived simply because the federal government demands it.
“I don’t know why the federal government thinks they should not abide by their own standards [which] they impose on local governments,” Darling says.
Ironically, Mayor Darling reports that one thing that is making the situation on the border more volatile is the government shutdown, as border agents are “not getting paid and they’re working.”
Currently, the Department of Homeland Security is on a partial shutdown. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials working at the nation’s airports are unpaid. The US Coast Guard (which protects vast ocean borders) is working without pay. Meanwhile the Department of Homeland Security canceled a trip to the southern border for its advisory council because it couldn’t “conduct business.”
One could make a reasonable argument that in pursuit of his wall, Trump has abandoned his own stated goals of increased border securitization. Perhaps when Trump visits McAllen on Thursday he should spend less time fabricating a national emergency and more time talking with the people who live there.