NEW YORK – The legislation President-elect Donald Trump will need to build the promised wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico was passed in 2006 and remains on the books, even though it was never built.
The Trump administration will only need fund the 2006 act to finally build a double-layer secure wall along the border with Mexico as Congress originally intended 10 years ago.
On Oct. 26, 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 saying: “This bill will help protect the American people. This bill will make our borders more secure. It is an important step toward immigration reform.”
Democrats in Congress have blocked funding, arguing the barrier is too costly and a step away from their stated goal of “comprehensive immigration reform,” a code-phrase for proposed legislation that typically includes de facto amnesty for the millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States.
The bill was introduced into the House of Representatives (H.R. 6061) on Sep. 13, 2006, by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. The bill received overwhelming support, passing the House by a vote of 283-138 on Sept. 14, 2006, and passing the Senate by 80-19 on Sept. 29, 2006.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 called for building some 700 miles of double-fence construction along the Mexican border, complete with vehicle barriers, checkpoints and lighting. Congress approved $1.2 billion in a separate homeland security spending bill to build the fence.
In 2006, as George W. Bush was pushing the Security and Prosperity Partnership with Mexico as a result of a tripartite summit with Mexico and Canada in Waco, Texas, the previous year, those pushing for secure borders had reason to believe the Secure Fence Act would go a long way toward solving the problem of unchecked illegal immigration from Mexico.
Where’s the Fence?
However, as WND reported in 2007 then Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, submitted an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security 2008 budget that would effectively gut the Secure Fence Act.
The Hutchison amendment read, in part, “nothing in this paragraph shall require the Secretary of Homeland Security to install fencing, physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors in a particular location along an international border of the United States, if the Secretary determines that the use or placement of such resources is not the most appropriate means to achieve and maintain operational control over the international border at such location.”
By slipping the amendment into the 2008 DHS funding bill, Hutchison gave DHS total discretion to build a fence or to not build a fence in any particular location.
Hutchinson knew that if then-Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff had discretion on whether or not to build the fence, the Bush administration could always insist that negotiations at the local level along the border, including with Mexico, had resulted in solutions to border security – including cameras, drones, sensors and other technological surveillance measures – that would make the barrier unnecessary.
On Nov. 6, 2007, a DHS fact sheet documented that only 76 miles of a “pedestrian fence” had been built along the Mexican border, making it clear no double-layer barrier had been built.
On Jan. 25, 2008, then-Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the author of the double-layer fence provisions of the Secure Fence Act of 2008, complained that only five miles of the 75-mile “pedestrian fence” then built was actually double-layer, as specified in the original legislation.
In 2014, Hunter’s son, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., posted on his website an editorial he had published in a San Diego newspaper arguing that the fence specified by his father in the 2006 legislation still needed to be built.
“One of San Diego’s greatest assets is the double-layered border fence that extends inland from the Pacific Ocean,” Hunter wrote. “Fencing and infrastructure alone are by no means enough to stop illegal crossings, but the presence of physical impediments at the border, when supported by manpower and technology, create barriers that make entry increasingly more difficult and sometimes impossible.”
Hunter charged the Obama administration was lying in claiming that border infrastructure needs had been met, arguing that less than 40 miles of double-layered fence had been built along the Mexican border in the eight years that had gone by since the Secure Fence Act had been passed.
“Either the mandates of the Secure Fence Act should be reinstated, which I have proposed, or the Obama administration should utilize existing authority to finish the job that the Bush Administration halfheartedly started,” Hunter insisted. “Either way, this is one initiative that, after almost 10 years since the Secure Fence Act was enacted, needs to be completed – the way it was intended.”
Failure to finish
On Jan. 23, 2008, the senior Rep. Duncan Hunter reintroduced into the 110th Congress a bill (H.R. 5124) titled Reinstatement of the Secure Fence Act of 2008 that again called for the building of a two-layered 14-foot tall, reinforced fence along the U.S. border with Mexico, only to see the bill die in committee.
Then-Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., wrote in Human Events Online on May 27, 2010, that only 34.3 miles of double-layer fence had been completed along the southern border, with only 2.3 miles of that total being built in the first year of the Obama administration.
At that time, DeMint was preparing to reintroduce an amendment to the DHS spending bill that he first introduced in July 2009. It would force President Obama to finish the 700-mile double-layer border fence by the end of 2010, as specified by the original 2006 legislation.
In 2009 and again in 2010, Democrats, in the legislative mark-up conference after the DHS funding bill had been passed by both houses, stripped DeMint’s amendment from the DHS budget behind closed doors after the Obama administration opposed what was termed “rapid expansion of the fence.”
DeMint stressed that a pair of reports the Government Accounting Office prepared in 2009 and early 2010 “proved virtual fencing is a virtual disaster.”
“The GAO found Border Patrol agents were relying on cameras that suffered signal loss and that the number of new defects identified with the virtual fence outpaced the number that were being fixed,” DeMint wrote. “U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Chief Alan Bersin dashed any hopes left for the virtual fence when he called it a ‘complete failure’ during a Senate hearing last month.”
DeMint was frustrated with both efforts to finish the fence.
“We’ve now had two administrations fail to keep their promise to the American people to secure our border and Americans are tired of excuses,” DeMint said when launching his doomed second attempt. “Americans have demanded a real fence to combat the very real problems of illegal immigration that have led to human trafficking, drug trafficking, kidnapping and violence on our border. Congress will never be able to achieve long-term reform to create a legal immigration system that works until we secure our borders.
In 2012, the Republican Party’s platform again raised the issue, declaring, “The double-layered fencing on the border that was enacted by Congress in 2006, but never completed, must finally be built.”
Funding Trump’s wall
Realizing the legislation already exists in the form of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, opponents have focused on the costs to build Trump’s wall, which some estimate may have escalated from the $1.2 billion total projected in 2006 to more than $4 billion today.
Trump, repeated asserted during the 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, noting the cost would be “a tiny fraction of the money” the U.S. loses to Mexico in trade deficits, currently estimated at $58 billion in 2015.