It’s been all over the news for a while now: Donald Trump’s infamous border wall. It was one of his election promises and he’s tried to bully Congress in to getting his way. Now, 16 states are suing him.
On 22 December 2018, key parts of the US government were shut down after Trump and his opposition – the Democrats – were at an impasse over the President’s request for $5bn to fund a US-Mexico border wall.
The shutdown ceased on 25 January, as Trump reached a tentative deal with the Democrats. Because the deal was only $1.375bn, and it was only to improve border barriers and not fund a wall, Trump declared a ‘national emergency’ to divert funds pre-approved by Congress to get the money needed to build the wall.
The National Emergencies Act gives the president special powers that allow them to bypass the usual political process which requires Congress to approve spending: in this case, by diverting funding from the military and the war on drugs to build the wall.
According to Californian Attorney General Havier Beccera: ‘We're suing President Trump to stop him from unilaterally robbing taxpayer funds lawfully set aside by Congress for the people of our states’.
Trump himself stated that he thinks he can find money to build a wall, but declaring a national emergency is quicker. ‘I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster’.
Previous national emergencies have been used to sanction terrorist groups, disarm nuclear weapons and mobilise medical services to combat the 2009 swine flu. A national emergency’s purpose is to deal with something that is actually a tangible emergency where time is of the essence, which is why Trump’s being sued.
Trump claims he can get almost $8bn diverted for his wall, which still falls incredibly short of the estimated $21bn required– a figure which is highly contentious to begin with.
Despite calling refugees invaders, rapists and other colourful names, as the US is a signatory of the Geneva Convention, under international law they must provide refuge to those who are legitimate refugees.
Of course, Trump doesn’t refer to them as refugees, so he believes this allows him to disregard international law. In actuality, building a wall to keep out those who are seeking refuge directly violates the Geneva Convention.
Furthermore, recent reports from the Department of Homeland Security claim the number of people that overstay their visas has outnumbered the number of people crossing the border illegally every year since 2007.
So why isn’t Trump focusing more on immigrants who overstay their visas? It’s more cost-effective to do so, and could – depending on how it was spun – achieve greater results in line with his election promises. Either force them to pay visa fees to stay, or deport them.
Allowing more immigrants and refugees into the country would contribute directly to economic growth by creating more demands for goods and services. The US Congressional Office suggests that giving more unauthorised immigrants citizenship and increasing immigration – for example, on the US-Mexico border – would grow US GDP by 0.33% over the next decade, while removing illegal aliens would lower growth by 0.27% each year.
In short, Trump’s wall will be detrimental to US GDP, break international law and waste significant time and money.
The wall was one of his election promises, and Trump won 64% of the votes from people that said immigration was the most important issue. His hard-line immigration policies clearly resound with the American public, and abandoning them outright would be unrealistic.
If Trump truly wanted to improve immigration policy and limit the amount of illegal immigrants living in the US, then he should focus on those who overstay their visa.
By creating a more comprehensive system of records and by implementing a task force to keep track of those who overstay their visa, Trump would be creating jobs and turning illegal citizens into legal citizens.
By giving those that overstay their visas the choice to stay – if all legal procedures are followed – and encouraging illegal immigrants to integrate with the workforce and obtain visas, Trump would achieve greater GDP growth as a result.
The windfall from the influx of visa fees being paid as a result of this crackdown would also go ways to repaying the money spent creating this system and taskforce.
Despite his divisive policies, Trump certainly knows how to galvanise a country. But can he galvanise the funds and political momentum needed to build his wall, or will his political career crumble as a result?
George Sagris is a journalist and Honours graduate in Japanese-Chinese politics based in Adelaide