Schumer pulls offer, but Mexico wall likely to rise again in immigration talks

Top Senate Democrat Charles Schumer said Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump had secured an agreement last week for billions in funding for his cherished border wall along the southern border in order to avoid a government shutdown, but the offer was rejected.

The White House rejected the characterization, saying no offer existed, but Texas Republican John Cornyn and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin said the offer entailed $ 25 billion US for the wall and other border security measures, spread over several years.

Schumer said the offer was being taken off the table. While it’s arguably a setback, the administration has been making progress toward additional barriers along the 3,145-kilometre border, a signature pledge for Trump since he first brought up the notion of a “fence” at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January 2015, five months before his official campaign launch.

Trump’s border security ideas evolved on the hustings, as he frequently exhorted supporters at his rallies in chants of “Build that wall!”

Here’s a look at how the issue has evolved since Trump was inaugurated as president just over a year ago.

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Trump meets Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Germany on July 7. Earlier in the year, the pair had a contentious phone call about the border wall. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Jan. 27, 2017: ‘You cannot say that to the press’

Trump and Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto have an animated phone conversation, with Trump imploring him to stop saying his country won’t pay for the wall.

Some highlights of the conversation, according to transcripts obtained months later by the Washington Post:

“The fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall — I have to,” says Trump.

“My position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall,” Nieto responds later in the conversation.

“But you cannot say that to the press,” Trump responds. “The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.”

The newly minted president says his preference would be to say publicly, “we are working it out [together].”

April 2017: Kelly scales back the wall

John Kelly, then heading Homeland Security and now Trump’s chief of staff, touts newly released figures of arrests of undocumented migrants as the lowest in a month since 2000. He credited his boss’s tough stance on illegal immigration in large part for the decrease, along with Mexican co-operation.

But before a congressional committee that month, Kelly also said: “It is unlikely that we will build a physical wall from sea to shining sea.” 

John Kelly

Then Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testifies tells lawmakers on Capitol Hill the wall won’t be from ‘sea to shining sea.’ (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

July 12, 2017: Transparent: See the drugs

Trump adds some new wrinkles to his script, touting the possibility of a solar wall to reduce costs — estimated by experts as anywhere from $ 20 billion to 40 billion US depending on the length and types of structures — as well as the need for a transparent, see-through element.

One of the reasons why? Drug tossing.

“As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them,” he tells reporters. “They hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over.

While drug smuggling through unguarded routes has occurred, a number of government reports through the years indicate the large majority of illicit drugs transported into the U.S. are smuggled through legal points of entry.

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July 27, 2017: House includes border funding

The U.S. House passes a $ 788-billion spending bill, which includes $ 1.6 billion for border wall funding, but a significant battle over the issue is expected in the Senate.

California Immigration Raids

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a number of lawsuits on behalf of his state against the Trump administration in 2017, including related to the planned border wall. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

Sept. 20, 2017: California legal challenge

Xavier Becerra, attorney general of California, files a lawsuit on behalf of the state to stop the Trump administration’s border wall plan. The suit contends the plan doesn’t comply with the federal government’s own environmental legislation and infringes on states’ rights, among other claims.

Oct. 26, 2017: Prototypes unveiled

Eight wall prototypes are unveiled near San Diego, featuring metal, concrete and brick components. One features a gradual slope and others are topped by spikes or rounded pipe to make climbing difficult. Five U.S. companies and an Israeli defence contractor were the companies that emerged from a bid process that began in March.

In the coming weeks, durability tests will be conducted on the replicas, which cost between $ 320,000 and $ 460,000.

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U.S. border patrol officers walk on Oct. 26 near a prototype for Trump’s border wall developed by Fisher Sand and Gravel Co of Tempe, Ariz. (Jorge Duenes/Reuters)

Jan. 6, 2018: At what cost?

The request from Customs and Border Protection calls for $ 18 billion towards wall construction over a decade. The goal is to erect 505 kilometres of barrier by 2027, bringing the overall total with some form of barrier to 1,522 km – encompassing about half the border, although the precise locations aren’t entirely clear. 

Soon after, the New York Times report cited a White House Office of Management and Budget document that said officials at the Homeland Security Department were being asked to reduce or delay funding requests for additional border security technology and equipment in favour of “dramatically” increasing funding for a wall.

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Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat whose 28th district extends from San Antonio to the Rio Grande, pointed out to the administration that a significant percentage of illegal aliens in the U.S. are the result of visa violations, not crossings. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Jan. 9, 2018: Ask San Diego

During the open-camera portion of a meeting with top Democrats and Republicans and his staff, Trump seems to shift in position whether immigration reforms should be included as an upcoming budget deadline looms or handled separately.

“We don’t need a 2,000-mile wall,” he says at one point, but “for a fairly good portion” of the border.

Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar points out that statistics indicate visa overstays account for 40 per cent of all unauthorized aliens in the country, making the expenditures involving a wall of questionable merit.

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Kirstjen Nielsen defends the effectiveness of walls: “Ask Yuma. Ask San Diego. The wall works.”

Nielsen was referring to the area in which, over a period of two decades beginning in 1989, three layers of fencing were built between the Southern California city and Yuma, Ariz. The initiatives included a 540-centimetre high mesh “surf fence” topped by razor wire extending 22 kilometres extending to the Pacific Ocean, completed in 2009 at an estimated $ 57 million.

According to a San Diego Tribune report in 2015, the border patrol reported just under 30,000 arrests in their designated area the previous year, down 95 per cent from a total of 565,581 in 1992.

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U.S. Customs and Border patrol agents on all-terrain vehicles look over the Mexico-U.S. border wall where it enters the Pacific Ocean at Border Field State Park in San Diego. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Jan. 11: Playing the NAFTA card

In an interview with Wall Street Journal, Trump raises the possibility he will use the wall as additional leverage in the already contentious negotiations with Mexico and Canada concerning reopening the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“[Mexico] can pay for it indirectly through NAFTA,” he tells the newspaper.

Jan. 18, 2018: Trump wasn’t ‘fully informed’

Kelly, in an interview with Fox News, indicates Trump has changed his way of thinking “on a number of things” since the presidential campaign.

Earlier in the day, the White House Chief of Staff had met with the Hispanic caucus of Congress.

“I pointed out to all of the [caucus] members that were in the room that they all say things during the course of campaigns that may or may not be fully informed,” Kelly said to Fox News host Bret Baier.

Jan. 19, 2018: ‘The wall is the wall’

Evidently angered by Kelly’s interview, Trump takes to Twitter in the morning.

“The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it,” the president says on Twitter. “Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water.”

Jan. 22, 2018: Wall down the road

After a three-day shutdown, a stopgap budget measure is agreed to between Democrats and Republicans, and signed by Trump. The issues of funding the wall, and the status of so-called Dreamer immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, remain unresolved. The sides agree to address the issues in the coming weeks.

On the same day, DHS says it will waive environmental provisions “in order to ensure the expeditious construction of barriers” near the Santa Teresa port of entry in New Mexico. The waiver would override provisions of the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act, among other regulations.

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