World·Analysis

If Trump isn't 'happy' about the border-wall deal, imagine how his voters feel

U.S. President Donald Trump first floated the idea of proclaiming a national emergency over border security last month. Among voters in his base who want his border wall, the idea is catching on.

Wall is 'mandatory,' a backer says, even if it requires declaring a national emergency

Left: U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during a campaign rally at El Paso, Texas County Coliseum. Right: Arizona cattle rancher John Ladd, who works near the U.S.-Mexico border, says a bipartisan deal that the president will sign on border security falls short of what he wants, but he supports the president anyway. (Leah Milles/Reuters, Astrid Galvan/Associated Press)

They want the U.S.-Mexico border wall badly in parts of Trump country. So badly, in fact, that some of U.S. President Donald Trump's supporters were hoping to see him declare what's widely dismissed as a bogus state of emergency to build it the way he wants.

Trump first floated the idea of proclaiming a national emergency over border security last month, provoking objections about fabricating a crisis for political gain.

Nevertheless, Trump went ahead with the plan Friday, announcing his intention to use his executive authority to bypass Congress and secure the money he needs for his promised wall.

And that's just fine with Trump loyalists like Al Burkett, a 65-year-old constable in staunchly Republican Alabama, especially after Trump was presented with a bipartisan border-security spending bill that he publicly dislikes

"Whatever it takes," Burkett said Thursday from his home in Mobile, some 1,300 kilometres from the border. "Whatever it takes to stop this invasion. We definitely need a wall. It's mandatory that we have the wall. Because these illegals are draining us dry of our resources."

For an "invasion," though, it hasn't raised much concern in some border communities. The governor of California said this week he would withdraw most of the state's 360 National Guard troops on the Mexico border so as not to partake in Trump's "absurd theatrics." And in El Paso, Texas, local officials balked at Trump's claim that a border fence dramatically reduced crime, saying instead that "no crisis exists" in their city.

The bipartisan border-security package, which the House passed on Thursday night and Trump signed on Friday, provides only $1.375 billion for wall construction — far short of the $5.7 billion Trump originally demanded. The president's original price tag was urgent enough for him to trigger a partial government shutdown that lasted a record 35 days, tanking his approval ratings in the process.

As negotiator-in-chief this round, Trump seemed resigned to defeat. On Tuesday, the president said of the deal: "I just got to see it. The answer is no, I'm not. I'm not happy."

It's no big surprise why. The $1.375 billion offer is even less than the $1.6 billion that Democrats offered Trump in December — before the shutdown.

The bill Trump signed Friday will cover just 88 kilometres of new barrier. The U.S.-Mexico border runs about 3,200 kilometres.

Burkett wasn't impressed with the bipartisan bill.

"Is that enough? No, no," he lamented. "It's better than nothing, but I don't think that's enough."

Al Burkett, 65, a constable in Mobile County, Ala., says he's 'unhappy' with the bipartisan bill Trump is poised to sign, offering only $1.375 billion for wall funding. He says the president should do 'whatever it takes' to get the rest of the funding he needs, including declaring a state of emergency. (Submitted by Al Burkett)

The number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has declined over more than a decade, according to a Pew Research Center report published last November.

Other misconceptions in the immigration debate include that migrants are more prone to spreading infections. Research disputes that myth, while immigrants in general make up a substantial portion of the U.S. health-care workforce.

Undocumented immigrants are also statistically less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens.

Not that the research matters to Burkett. He claims the situation at the border "isn't armies coming across with guns and tanks, but it's really about as bad." He also believes illegal migrants are "probably bringing in diseases."

Burkett wasn't concerned about the prospect of court challenges against an emergency declaration based on the argument the border situation isn't a real emergency.

"It's a state of emergency to me," Burkett said.

If a wall won't do the trick, he's open to more extreme ideas.

"I wonder if you were to fly helicopters, and saw people fixin' to go over, and you had a machine-gun down there — and not shooting there, but just ahead of them," he said. "I wonder if that would turn them back."

Trump expressed misgivings about the deal reached by congressional leaders on Tuesday, but did not outright reject signing the agreement. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Weeks ago, the prospect of calling a state of emergency over border security generated pushback from the conservative base, who were reminded of former president Barack Obama's use of executive powers as a marker of "an imperial president," said Rachel Bovard, the senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute in Washington, D.C.

The White House has since "done a great job of socializing" the national-emergency concept, she said, "making people feel more comfortable about it" as it built some academic support. Scholars argue it might survive a court challenge.

Still, some moderate Republicans recoil at the thought of the president pulling such a manoeuvre. Posing for photos outside the White House on Thursday, Kacey Countryman, a tourist from Kansas, grimaced when asked about the prospect of invoking an emergency.

"I think that would be a bad move. It sets a precedent," she said. "Every time the president doesn't get what he wants, even the next president, if they're gonna throw the gauntlet down, they're just gonna say, 'Well, I'm just gonna call a national emergency.' Do you really want to do that?"

Kacey Countryman, 45, stops in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. The tourist from Eureka, Kan., is a moderate Republican who believe it would be a 'mistake' for Trump to declare a state of emergency in order to get funds to build his wall. (Matt Kwong/CBC)

On Thursday, prior to Trump declaring a state of emergency, Republican strategist Ryan Stubenrauch said he expected most Republicans could declare victory in some way thanks to the bipartisan bill. While the gap between $1.375 billion and $5.7 billion is big, he said, Trump could still say "the U.S. will be increasing border security and building his wall."

John Ladd, a fourth-generation Arizona rancher whose southern fence straddles the border, was among the Trump supporters claiming a win.

He called the president's apparent willingness to sign the spending deal "a breath of fresh air." Despite the limited amount of wall funds contained in the bill, Ladd expected a wall — or a significant part of it — could be erected.

"This is one of those things he promised. And he's fulfilled quite a few of his campaign promises," Ladd said from his property near Bisbee on Thursday.

John Ladd, with Republican Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, says he often sees groups of illegal migrants on the ranch where he works near Douglas, Ariz., close to the U.S.-Mexico border. (Submitted by John Ladd)

Statistics show most hard drugs that enter the country are smuggled through legal ports of entry, a fact that a wall wouldn't eliminate.

Ladd begs to differ. He says he's seen from his kitchen window people climb the border fence, and he says he knows of migrants bringing heroin to the U.S.

"I live with this crap every day. It is a national emergency," he said. "In my area, these are bad people. They're not maids and housekeepers; they're bad people running dope."

Many of the people in a recent migrant caravan on the southern border are in fact families and refugees waiting to apply legally for asylum.

But Ladd says he's seen enough tragedy befall friends at the hands of illegal migrants to know better. He doesn't try to sway anyone on Trump's handling of the immigration crisis. If a national emergency can build more of the wall, then so be it, he said, adding that polarized opinions on the border are "unchangeable."

"When your agenda is so different than what a strong American philosophy should be," he said, "it's a waste of time trying to convince anybody about reality."

About the Author

Matt Kwong

Reporter

Matt Kwong is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News. He previously reported for CBC News as an online journalist in New York and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at: @matt_kwong

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.