In 2006, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, which mandated the construction of multilayer pedestrian fencing along about 600 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
It passed with big, bipartisan majorities: 283 votes in the House and 80 in the Senate. Some top Democrats who are still in the Senate today supported the fence: Charles Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Ron Wyden, Debbie Stabenow and Sherrod Brown.
Just the next year, Congress made clear it didn’t really mean what it said. The new law was amended to make fence building optional.
In 2013, Congress got back into the fence game. The comprehensive immigration reform bill included something called the “Southern Border Fencing Strategy.” It called for 700 miles of at least single-layer pedestrian fencing along the border. It wasn’t a standalone measure; the fence was to be part of a broader package of border security measures, alongside provisions that would create a process by which the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants would ultimately gain a path to citizenship.
With citizenship in the deal, Democrats were fully on board for a border barrier. The bill passed with unanimous Democratic support in the Senate.
In the House, the Republican leadership blocked the bill from coming to a vote.
The bill would have given a provisional legal status to illegal immigrants who did not have criminal records. But the border security measures, including the fence, had to be funded and built first.
Today, Democrats will not even support a relatively small amount of money, $5 billion, to build a portion of the barrier that Trump wants. A possible deal — wall funding in exchange for DACA legalization — fell through earlier this year, in part, because Trump added new demands to the wall proposal, but also because a federal judge in California stopped the president’s move to rescind DACA.
The court said a president cannot use executive action to undo an executive action of a previous president. The ruling was later backed up by other courts, and it gave Democrats assurance they might get what they want from the courts without having to give away anything in a deal with Trump.
And now the Democratic position appears to have hardened further still. Nancy Pelosi recently called a border wall “immoral.” How could her party make any deal to support, even a little bit, something her colleagues believe is immoral?
It is unclear whether Pelosi thinks all the barriers currently in place on the U.S.-Mexico border are immoral, but it seems clear that she would never support any new ones.
The U.S.-Mexico border is nearly 2,000 miles long. Significant parts of it are so rugged that barriers are simply unnecessary. According to the Border Patrol, there are now 354 miles of single fence along the border. There are 37 miles of double-deep fence and 14 miles of three-deep fencing, for a total of 405 miles of pedestrian fencing. In addition, there are 300 miles of vehicle fencing, which keeps cars and trucks from crossing the border but allows people to move freely.
The 2013 bill would have replaced that with 700 miles of pedestrian fencing, some of it multilayered. Now, amid a partial government shutdown, Trump, despite his years of talk about a “wall,” would very likely take such a deal. The question is whether there are any circumstances under which Democrats would ever agree to what they once supported.