Arizona doesn't love Trump's anti-immigration plans

The state is once again at the center of debate

By Vincent Peña
Published January 14, 2018 10:00AM (EST)
United States - Mexico border wall (Getty/Omar Martinez)
United States - Mexico border wall (Getty/Omar Martinez)

This feature is part of Salon's Young Americans initiative, showcasing emerging journalists reporting from America's red states. Read more Young Americans stories.

ya-embed-logoTough talk on immigration is part of what got Donald Trump elected. But in Arizona, where immigration has always been a hot-button issue, his plans have been met with plenty of opposition.

Donald Trump’s election promise to crack down on the “bad hombres” coming to the United States illegally has resulted in a number of controversial moves by the president, including the repeal of former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, and the call for a new border wall that Mexico will finance. Yet it turns out Mexico won’t be paying for Trump’s proposed wall, and it’s looking likelier American citizens will be financing the construction of said wall, if it ever happens. His controversial Muslim ban has been blocked in court several times; his DACA rollback has spurred lawsuits, and his wall isn’t much closer to being built.

Among the states that share a border with Mexico, Texas has the largest border but has the least amount of fencing. The Rio Grande acts as a natural border, and much of the land along the border is privately owned, unlike in Arizona or California. Arrests across the entire border hit a record low in 2017, although there was an increase in assaults on border patrol in 2017.

Arizona shares approximately 362 miles of border with Mexico, of which 306 already have some kind of a barrier separating the U.S. from its southern neighbors. It’s not yet known how many miles of wall Trump hopes to build on the remaining 56 miles of unprotected border, and many opponents to his plans question whether it’s necessary, or even legal, to build the wall.

Among his many opponents are the typical immigration activists but also a number of others. Environmentalists and scientists have warned that a new border wall would jeopardize a number of species who live in the Sonoran Desert that spans parts of Arizona and Mexico, including the endangered Arizona jaguar and the ocelot. Native nations like the Tohono O’Odham also oppose Trump’s wall, because much of the unprotected land belongs to the tribe, and they fear they will be separated from the nearly 2,000 of the 34,000-member nation on the Mexican side of the border. A wall would also disrupt sacred tribal traditions and would be constructed on sacred tribal land.

What’s more, it appears a majority of the state's general population opposes Trump’s border wall plan as well. In December, the Arizona Republic reported the results of a recent survey of 600 of the state's residents. About two-thirds of those polled oppose the president’s plan, and 61 percent oppose laws that result in deportation of immigrants legally in the U.S. The survey indicates a shift in the attitudes of Arizonans since the infamous immigration bill SB1070 was passed in 2010. It doesn’t necessarily mean more people are in favor of illegal immigration, but rather that many don’t believe a wall is necessarily the best response.

Aside from the cost of the wall, which has been estimated to cost close to $70 billion, the economic impact of such an endeavor would be significant. Trump’s initial idea to have Mexico pay for the wall is not going to happen, and it looks likely U.S. taxpayers will end up footing the bill. Additionally, if a wall is built, it could complicate or sever ties between the two countries, severely harming the economies of the southwestern states who do business with Mexico. But it wouldn’t just hurt the Southwest, as Mexico supplies a large portion of all of the produce in the U.S., including more than half of all the tomatoes. Should an import tax be placed on Mexican imported goods, U.S. taxpayers would be forced to pay more for their produce. Either way, Americans end up paying for this wall.

Work has slowly begun on the wall, beginning with the construction of eight wall prototypes in San Diego back in October. U.S. Customs and Border Protection may choose one or more to use as the new design for the wall, but no decision has yet been made. To even get the construction started on the prototypes, however, the Trump administration waived some 37 laws and regulations, including the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

But while the proposed wall is still a long way from becoming a reality, Trump’s decision to end DACA protections for the approximately 800,000 Dreamers has had a major impact already, as some are already being deported or are having their renewals denied. Congress has until March to act on the Obama-era legislation, but in the meantime, the fates of many of these young immigrants is in limbo.

At least five bills have already been proposed in Congress to handle the Dreamers, such as the SUCCEED Act, the Dream ACT, the Recognizing America’s Children Act, the American Hope Act, and one from Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake called the Border Security and Deferred Action Recipient Relief Act. Flake’s bill tries to address two seemingly divergent problems: paying for the border wall and helping Dreamers remain in the U.S. While Flake and others have signaled they would support continuing DACA protections, there is no guarantee they will follow through on that promise, especially since nothing was done about it before the holiday break.

The fight over the Dreamers is just heating up, as the six-month deadline Trump gave Congress to act on the bill is approaching in March. In December, several DACA recipients protested and were arrested outside Senate offices and then staged a hunger strike while in jail in an effort to urge senators to come up with a solution. There is bipartisan support for continued DACA protections, which is why Republicans like Flake are wont to tie the two together in proposed legislation.

The solution for the DACA recipients will be determined when Congress convenes again after the winter break, and it’s yet to be determined if and when this wall will be built, but it’s sure to get intense over the next several months on the immigration front. What comes of both of these and other targets of the Trump administration, such as sanctuary cities, will have lasting effects that will undoubtedly influence the 2018 midterm elections.

Vincent Peña

Born and raised in Phoenix, Vincent Peña attended Northern Arizona for undergrad and headed to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for grad school. He's a huge journalism nerd who has mostly written about sports, but wanted to venture out and write about issues that are important to him and his community, especially in Arizona. There's more to Arizona than cacti, bad government decisions, 117-degree heat, and mediocre sports teams — like 80-degree winters and the best Mexican food north of the border. His main vices are books and coffee. Follow him on Twitter @vincent_pena7.

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