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When the wall becomes a minefield

President Trump continues to be adamant on the Mexican wall even as the US government shutdown persists. But every passing day is denting his credibility further.

A meeting between US President Donald Trump, Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer to break the impasse over the Mexican wall and end the US government shutdown failed to produce a tangible outcome.

In fact, the two sides seemed to have hardened their positions more than anything else. Trump walked out of the meeting when his proposal to approve the wall/fence in 30 days if he ended the shutdown was rejected by the Democrats.

Later, Trump tweeted, “Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time. I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”

Chuck Schumer responded, “Stop throwing a temper tantrum and re-open the government. You’re hurting American workers and their families.”

As the US government shutdown entered its 18th day over the issue of the Mexican border wall, Trump again made an impassioned address to the nation from the Oval Office in favour of his cherished project. He cited the example of Indian American police officer Corporal Ronil Singh, who was killed by an illegal immigrant on December 26, 2018.

Speaking on the tragic incident, Trump exclaimed, “America’s heart broke the day after Christmas when a young police officer in California was savagely murdered in cold blood by an illegal alien who just came across the border. The life of an American hero was stolen by someone who had no right to be in our country.” He sought to make the distinction that Ronil was a legal immigrant who America proudly welcomes, and his attacker was an illegal immigrant.

He further added that the wall was necessary due to the drug imports that were killing thousands of Americans every year, much more than the entire Vietnam war. Meanwhile, a caravan of around 7,000 Central Americans who had crossed Mexico are camped on border and awaiting entry of the US.

There are some holes in Trump’s logic. For instance, not all immigrants are dangerous. Twelve of them died recently in custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which included two Guatemalan kids aged 7 and 8. Also, he is right that around 90% of heroin in US is smuggled from Mexico, but this comes through legal ports of entry in cars and tractor trailers and not in the large uninhabited areas of land where Trump plans his wall.

Meanwhile, Trump is also wrong that the new US-Mexico trade deal will indirectly fund the wall, since the deal is not ratified by the Congress yet. This will be tough now, since the Democrats are now controlling the House of Representatives. Trump had asked for a budget of US$ 5.6 billion for building the border wall, which was refused by the Democrats. Consequently, since the federal budget has not been cleared for lack of consensus, the US government has been in shutdown mode since with only essential functions being conducted.

In his speech, Trump did not see any reason to back off from his demand, and said that he would settle for a steel fence at best.

In response, Democrat Chuck Schumer, who is the minority leader in the Senate, and Pelosi have expressed their staunch opposition to a budget for an “ineffective, unnecessary border wall“. They would like to push for other means to strengthen border security through better usage of technology and improved infrastructure.

The Democrats accuse Trump of persisting with the shutdown that impacts border employees and not coming around to a compromise to pass the budget for now and continue the debate on the wall later. Schumer said: “We don’t govern by temper tantrum. No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down, hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage.”

Democrats are hoping that Trump’s own party members would pressure him to bend as the shutdown gets longer.

Indeed, the Republican ranks seem to be breaking, as 8 Republicans voted with Democrats on Wednesday to clear a spending measure to end the shutdown without funding for the border wall. This vote will reopen some agencies including the Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service and Small Business Administration.

This would of course not pass the Senate, but the signs are clear. Prolonged shutdown helps no one, and Trump cannot hold out much longer. Every day of the shutdown is embarrassing him further and also increasing public resentment.

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