Dublin: Build it — and they won’t come. That’s the logic of US President Donald Trump in making the case for a permanent steel or concrete wall stretching along his nation’s southern border with Mexico.
It’s a structure he says is needed urgently to stem what he claims is a growing humanitarian and security crisis there. For critics, mostly Democrats who now control the House of Representatives in America’s 116th Congress, there is no crisis, there’s no need for it, and it would be largely ineffective anyway.
On Tuesday night, in his first prime-time address from the Oval Office, Trump pitched his case for the wall. He and Democrats are in a protracted standoff over funding for the wall.
He wants $5.7 billion (Dh20 billion) now to construct it — money he says he will find in the Pentagon budget by declaring a national emergency and using the military to build it.
Democrats are refusing to budge, and the standoff has left more than 800,000 US federal government workers off the job in the longest-ever shutdown in Washington.
Trump says he’s willing to keep the government shut down for months, years even, to fulfil one of his key campaign promises.
That southern border, where California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas meet Mexico, is 3,145 kilometres long. Some 1,045km of that border is already fortified, and the president wants the rest built urgently.
According to the New York Times, since Trump took office almost two years’ ago, no new fencing has been built — a fact that weighs heavily on his populist constituency who bought into his message for better border security to curb immigrants and curtail America’s crime rate.
The new Democrat-controlled Congress has prepared a series of bills that would get the federal government workers back on the job — but which don’t allocate money for building the wall.
Even if those are agreed to by the Republican-controlled Senate, the bills still require the signature of Trump to take effect. And he says he will veto those bills until he gets the funds for the wall.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe.
Another brick in the wall
Here’s a quick look at ten of the most contentious frontier barriers designed and erected to keep people apart or stem the flow of refugees around the world:
West Bank Separation Barrier — 712km
The Israeli government began work on the barrier in 2002 to carve out almost 10 per cent of Palestine’s West Bank. The barrier has exclusion areas up to 60 metres wide, and is 9 metres high in certain places, topped with razor wire and electronic surveillance equipment. The wall weaves tortuously between Israel’s colonies, dividing Palestinian farms and stealing more than 52,000 hectares of Palestinian land. In constructing the barrier, the Israeli regime broke up contiguous Palestinian urban and rural blocs, severed inter-community ties that had been forged for centuries and abruptly imposed an arbitrary reconfiguration on colony boundaries — to suit the occupation regime’s security forces.
The Berlin Wall — 155km
The Berlin Wall came to symbolise the deep ideological divisions between East and West during the four decades of the Cold War. While the Iron Curtain divided the Soviet Union from Western Europe, Berlin itself was an isolated pocket surrounded by hostile East Germany. It’s estimated 240 people were killed trying to cross the barrier that was overseen by 302 watchtowers and some 20 bunkers. It was fortified with electricity, trip wires, a kill zone and a border force of some 20,000 hand-picked East German guards with orders to kill anyone who attempted to cross. It was dismantled after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.
Cyprus Green Line — 180km
The Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when the northern portion was invaded by Turkish paratroopers — a response to a military coup. While Turkey and few others formally recognise the northern Cypriot state, responsibility for policing the Green Line has been overseen by the United Nations. There have been talks on the re-unification of the island, but these have stalled because of Turkish demands to permanently station military forces in the north. Britain too has forces stationed in the south. One of the key sticking points remains financial compensation for divided and seized property.
Hungary’s border with Serbia — 175km
The right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary began construction of the four-metre high chain link and razor-wire frontier — along with an exclusion zone for patrol vehicles — in 2015 to stem a flood of mostly Muslim refugees fleeing violence across the Middle East. Some 900 soldiers and private contractors were involved in its construction, as Orban vowed that he would do everything to ensure Hungary remained a Christian country. Hungary’s government currently faces sanctions from the European Commission and the European Parliament over its treatment of refugees and refusal to accept EU-agreed quotas.
Land border between Greece and Turkey — 130km
While the sea between western Turkey and the islands of eastern Greece were the main focus for hundreds of thousands of mostly Syrian refugees, the land frontier now between the two has been refortified in recent months. The international border marks the south-western-most edge of the 28-member European Union — generally more welcoming for those seeking asylum and a new life. Tensions between Turkey and Greece, however exist and Greek border guards were detained for straying into Turkish territory. A large portion of the frontier is made up of the Evros River — the Meric River in Turkish — a natural barrier that deters many.
‘The Great Wall of Calais’ — 1.5km
For months, desperate refugees seeking asylum in the United Kingdom camped at the busy French Channel port of Calais, attempting to stowaway in cargo loads or to hitch a dangerous ride on a Channel ferry by clinging to the underframes of lorries. British and French authorities agreed to erect a four-metre high chain- and razor-wire fence. Taxpayers in the United Kingdom contributed £2.3 million (Dh10.7 million) for its construction beside the N216 motorway leading to Calais port. Steel doors along the fence, however, proved to be its weak point, with refugees forcing them open to try and stow away on a passing truck.
The Bulgaria barrier with Turkey — 269km
During the Cold War, this section of the Iron Curtain was protected by watchtowers within visibility of each other, piercing searchlights, machine guns, rows of chain-link and razor-wire fencing — and a minefield that stretched its entire length, in addition to it being 500 metres wide. It was dismantled after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Over the past five years, however, the fence has been restored — though not as militarily fortified — to prevent refugees from reaching the European Union from Turkey. Some 11,000 crossed in 2013 when work on “containment barrier” began in November, falling to 4,000 a year later.
The Ceuta corridor — 6.4km
Ceuta is one of two Spanish-claimed possessions on the northern coast of Morocco, separated by the 14km of the Strait of Gibraltar. While many refugees from central and North Aftica opt for a perilous sea crossing across the Mediterranean, a 5-metre high fence, topped with razor wire and heavily patrolled by more than 1,000 Spanish federal police and Guardia Civil is all that technically separates others from a new life in the European Union. In recent years, there have been multiple attempts to swarm the fence and overwhelm the Spanish guards. Spanish possession of the territory is not recognised by Morocco.
The Melilla fence — 11km
This Spanish enclave in northern Morocco is not recognised by the Moroccan government but the fence is a formidable barrier thwarting would-be asylum seekers. The frontier consists of three separate rows of razor and chain-link fencing, each separated by roads for patrol vehicles, watchtowers, underground noise and movement sensors, video surveillance and spotlights. The measures, however, do not deter those willing to risk tackling the fences with bolt cutters or crudely climbing the fences using ladders, sheeting and ropes. Others attempt to cross into Melilla through small boats from along the Moroccan coast
‘The Cactus Curtain’ — 27km
The Cactus Curtain was a term used during the Cold War to describe the demarcation line between Cuban Communist-controlled territory on the island of Cuba, separating it from the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. In 1961, the government in Havana planted a 13km-deep forest of dense cactus trees along the entire border to deter Cubans from crossing into the US base. The border was also the most densely mined place on earth after the De-Militarised Zone on the Korean peninsula. The landmines were ordered removed by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Mines on the Cuban side of the fence remain in place.
— Compiled by Mick O’Reilly, Gulf News Foreign Correspondent