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Editor’s note: The partial federal government shutdown is now in its 24th day, the longest such stoppage in American history. President Donald J. Trump spoke to the nation from the Oval Office on Jan. 8, in an attempt to explain his and the Republican Party’s approach to the impasse, centering on the proposed construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, with an initial budget request of $5.7 billion.
The AMSA Voice staffers Conan Higgins and Kimsoo Gopnik offer their take on the speech and the shutdown below.
From Conan Higgins, staff writer:
President Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office last week to talk about the “crisis” at the southern border. He claimed that the immigration system is broken, drugs and people are trafficked across the border, and Democrats are stubborn and refusing to cooperate.
While I believe that a wall could not only benefit the United States, but Mexican and other migrants as well — with legal immigrant status, they are less likely to be taken advantage of or exploited — I think that a government shutdown in fighting for a wall is unnecessary and extreme.
A wall is not the only solution to a more stable immigration system.
The issue of immigration — both illegal and legal — is nothing new, so Mr. Trump calling it a “crisis” is exaggerating the issue. Yes, illegal immigration is a problem and can negatively affect the lives of working-class Americans and strain public resources, but it is not at its worst levels.
According to an article published by The Washington Post, the number of illegals trying to enter the United States was 1.64 million in 2000, much more than last year’s number of 397,000, which is the lowest since the 1960s.
Mr. Trump also claimed that drugs and people are smuggled through the border. He is not wrong — again according to The Washington Post, 90 percent of heroin is smuggled from Mexico across the border. However, the majority of it is smuggled through legal points of entry.
This is simply a matter of poor security and will probably not change even with a wall unless the promise of technology that detects drugs and weapons at the southern border will be realized.
Mr. Trump also stated that Democrats are unwilling to talk things out with him and claimed they supported a wall on the border before he became president. This is partially true: Hillary Clinton and many other Democrats voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorized building 700 miles of fencing along the border between the United States and Mexico.
Mr. Trump also claimed that “Democrats will not fund border security.” They don’t support his wall, but they do support border security. In fact, Democrats have offered $1.3 billion to fund border security.
In short, several of Mr. Trump’s statements during his address were false, taken out of context, or exaggerated.
After the speech, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke to the nation and said that they are willing to negotiate to end the government shutdown.
Mr. Schumer and Mrs. Pelosi, two vocal critics of Mr. Trump and the wall, implored the president to end the government shutdown. I could not agree with them more — there is no need to force congressional Democrats to give in to Mr. Trump’s wants, especially in this situation given that the president’s opponents have made it clear that they are willing to negotiate.
From Kimsoo Gopnik, photo editor:
President Trump gave a speech last week from the Oval Office regarding the government shutdown, but not in the most “presidential” way. With no consideration for the whole truth, Mr. Trump spoke openly about his demands for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The president often employed incorrect information and used other information out of context. With biased language and dehumanizing statements, President Trump once again made his thoughts on immigration clear — he says it is hurting Americans and needs to be stopped, primarily by using a steel wall.
Not only did the president use degrading words such as “aliens” and “violent” to stereotype Mexican immigrants, but he also issued very misleading statements. This “crisis” (that is completely the Democrats’ fault, according to Mr. Trump) has led him to want to create “a safe America.”
But the number of illegal aliens apprehended at the southern border over the past year was a fourth of what it was in 2000. So if this is not a new threat and it is not an exploding threat, then why is the government being shut down and negatively impacting 800,000 federal workers?
Another misleading statement Mr. Trump made was that the wall would pay for itself. He made the argument that the cost of illegal drugs in America is $500 billion, more than enough to cover the cost of the wall. The figure is not only wildly incorrect — the Surgeon General estimated the figure at $193 billion in 2015 — but Mr. Trump assumes this money will be easily accessible and used to fund a wall.
Mr. Trump also said that the recently renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement would make Mexico pay for the wall, as he had promised his supporters all along. But the money associated with trade is private money, not federal money, and has no bearing whatsoever on funding a border wall.
In their response to Mr. Trump’s address, both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pointed out that the president’s technique inspiring fear is not efficient, that he has disregarded the effect of the shutdown on the American people, and that no president should be able to demand what he wants and then throw a “temper tantrum” if they do not get their way.
Both also pledged commitment to the country’s security — just not through a border wall.
The idea that the president of the United States needs to be fact checked because of a long history of dishonesty is terrifying on its own. The disregard Mr. Trump shows for the views and lives of others is nothing to be proud of.
With this shutdown — now the longest in the history of the United States — he has placed blame wherever he sees fit (despite saying on camera he would take ownership for any shutdown during an earlier meeting with the two Democratic leaders).
If Mr. Trump wants to have his wall built, he needs to learn to work with others and create long-lasting solutions by finding common ground. For the sake of America, I hope he can go against the odds and do just that.