In early January, President Donald Trump went to McAllen, Texas. He wanted to make his case for building a wall along the southern U.S. border.
“What [we] need more than anything is the barrier, the wall,” Trump said. “Whether it’s steel or concrete . . . we need a barrier.”
The president stood beside police officers and border patrol agents. They were overlooking the Rio Grande. This river separates McAllen from Mexico.
The promise to build a border wall was central to Trump’s presidential campaign. He thinks a wall is needed to stop immigrants from entering the country illegally. He says it will protect Americans from crime, drugs, and terrorism. Trump wants $5.7 billion to begin building the wall. Congress has not given it to him.
“Whether it’s steel or concrete, we need a barrier.” — U.S. President Donald Trump
In December, Congress passed a spending bill . It was needed to keep the government running. The bill did not contain money for the wall. Trump said he would not sign it. The government went into partial shutdown.
On January 3, the U.S. House of Representatives passed bills to reopen parts of the government. Those bills included money for border security. They did not provide money for a wall. Trump would not consider this solution. So the shutdown continued.
On January 8, Trump went on TV to address the nation. He called on Democratic lawmakers to support the wall and end the shutdown.
Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer responded in a televised address of their own. Pelosi is Speaker of the House. “We all agree that we need to secure our borders,” she said. She noted that Democrats have different ideas about the best way to do that. These ideas include investing in new technology to scan cars as they cross the border and funding “more innovation to detect unauthorized crossings.”
Schumer spoke next. He leads the Democrats in the Senate. “We can secure our border without an expensive, ineffective wall,” he said. “And we can welcome legal immigrants and refugees without compromising safety and security.” He added, “The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall.”
Coming to America
The U.S. and Mexico share a border that is nearly 2,000 miles long. The border includes 1,250 miles of the Rio Grande, a natural barrier. Human-made barriers already block 654 miles of the border. These include metal fences. Trump wants to add barriers where currently there are none.
People can enter the U.S. legally. They must go through an official entry point and get permission from the U.S. government. Some try to enter illegally. But fewer and fewer have tried in the past two decades, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
One group of people trying to cross the border has increased. These are families and children seeking asylum. (An asylum seeker is a person who has fled his or her country in search of safety in a new country.) Recent figures show that each month, about 31,188 families and children traveling alone sought to enter the U.S. Two years before, that number was only about 13,210. That’s an increase of 136%.
Most of these people are from Guatemala and Honduras. These countries are in Central America. They have suffered from violence and political unrest.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador is the president of Mexico. He has called on Canada and the U.S. to help ease poverty and violence in Mexico and Central America. That would slow migration to the U.S., he says. “Because he who leaves his town does not leave for pleasure but out of necessity.”
Where It Stands
On January 19, Trump made Democrats another offer. He asked them to provide the $5.7 billion for the border wall. In exchange, he would give temporary protection to some immigrants who had been brought to the U.S. illegally when they were children. Democrats rejected this proposal.
At press time, the government shutdown was in its fifth week. It is now the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Some 800,000 federal employees continue to go without a paycheck.
Meanwhile, migrants continue to make their way to the States. Trump has said he could declare a national emergency at the border. That would reopen the government. It could also pave the way for construction to begin on the wall.
“He who leaves his town does not leave for pleasure but out of necessity.” — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador
On his trip to McAllen, Trump was met by protestors and supporters. Some held signs that said “No Border Wall.” Others chanted, “Build That Wall, Build That Wall.”
Jim Darling is mayor of McAllen. “We don’t feel a crisis in our city,” Darling told TIME. “McAllen is the safest city in the state of Texas.”
Even some who support reducing immigration doubt that a border wall is the answer. Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. He says the main crisis at the border is the rise of families coming to the U.S. from Central America. “Border barriers,” he says, “are not the whole solution. They were never going to be the whole solution.”
Update: On January 25, President Donald Trump announced a deal to reopen the government until February 15.
What is a government shutdown? Government agencies depend on funding from Congress to operate. A government shutdown happens when lawmakers are not able to pass a federal budget. The budget funds these agencies. During a shutdown, some parts of the…