President Trump moved the ball of perception about stopping illegal immigration in a most notable fashion. On November 22, Thanksgiving Day, the American president was interviewed after his holiday phone call to the military, and discussed the authorization of the use of lethal force against immigrants in the caravans who try to forcibly enter the United States’ territory (points of emphasis added):
REPORTER: “Mr. President, what about the idea that the military may use lethal force against these migrants?”
TRUMP: “If they have to, they’re going to to use lethal force. I’ve given the OK. If they have to, I hope they don’t have to, but you’re dealing with a minimum of 500 serious criminals. So I’m not going to let the military be taken advantage of. I have no choice. Do I want that to happen? Absolutely not, but you’re dealing with rough people. You ask the people in Tijuana, Mexico, they opened up with wide arms, just come in, come in, let me help you, let us take care of you. And within two days, now they’re going crazy to get them out. They want them out. Because things are happening, bad things are happening in Tijuana. And again, it’s not in this country because we’ve closed it up. Actually, two days ago, we closed the border. We actually just closed it. We say nobody is coming in because it was out of control. But you take a look at Tijuana, Mexico. You see what’s happening there. It’s really a bad situation.”
REPORTER: “What do you mean you closed the border and nobody is coming in? What do you mean by that?”
TRUMP: “If we find that it’s uncontrollable, Josh, if we find that it’s — it gets to a level where we are going to lose control or where people are going to start getting hurt, we will close entry into the country for a period of time until we can get it under control.”
REPORTER: “Do you mean the entire border?” [crosstalk]
TRUMP: “The whole border. I mean the whole border. And Mexico will not be able to sell their cars into the United States where they make so many at great benefit to them — not a great benefit to us, by the way. But at least now we have a good new trade deal with Mexico and with Canada. But we will close the border. And that means that Mexico is not going to be able to sell their cars into the United States until it’s open. But we’re going to either have a border or we’re not. And when they lose control of the border on the Mexico side, we just close the border. And we have a very powerful border. We built a very strong border in a very short period of time. And the military has been fantastic, the job they have done. And by the way, Border Patrol and ICE, all of the law enforcement we have involved, and we have local law enforcement, too, they have done an incredible job. And they have wanted this for you know, I’m the first president who’s done to this extent, but they wanted this for years. And some of the presidents, I guess they didn’t care or they wanted open borders. I don’t think they wanted open borders. Because most of them, if you go back to 2006, they all approved essentially a wall, a very powerful fence, which is pretty much the same thing. But in 2006, if you look, Obama, you look at Hillary Clinton, you look at Schumer, all of the people that are standing up protesting, they think it’s good for them politically. See, I think it’s bad for them politically. I think the fact that they’re weak on the border is very, very bad for them politically. But you know, I have only been a politician for three years so maybe they know better than me.”
This is an enormously important, and apparently, underreported point. The authorization of lethal force against invading migrants takes the rhetoric and action to a whole new level, and it is shifting the conversation about the overall issue of border security for the United States.
The American people’s reaction to the idea of a strong and non-porous southern border has been historically “soft.”
For at least the last forty years, the problem of mostly Mexican illegals crossing the border into the United States in order to work has been simultaneously derided and loved. Derided for reasons ranging from xenophobia to worries about taking jobs away from Americans, yet loved because cheap labor is great for companies and individuals.
However, the notion of entirely closing the border or using lethal force against illegal immigrants has never been popularly accepted in the 20th century, perhaps because images of the Berlin Wall and the DMZ in the Korean Peninsula bring images of repressive governments, and Americans are often loath to associate such imagery with their own nation.
This is probably the main reason why no really substantial border wall with Mexico has ever been built. Instead, fences which are easy to scale or cut through were placed in populated areas, and unpopulated areas received surveillance from thinly placed border security forces, usually under the conditions of “catch and release”, with variations. Some of those variations, such as putting a repeat crosser far into their country of origin, have been expensive efforts, perhaps to appear more kind than the grim images from the Iron Curtain.
The border with, Mexico is 1,954 miles long, and it is the most frequently crossed border in the world. Many things cross it besides people. Narcotics is perhaps the biggest unwanted item crossing the border, but additionally, human trafficking by coyotes, people who trade in human flesh, have often resulted in truckloads of dead and dying people being found in various parts of the United States.
President Trump wants to radically change this situation. His America First policy basis is greatly supported by his supporters, but that still left about half of the nation not wanting it. However, the recent moves of the immigrant caravans and the President’s countermoves have shone light on this situation. When Mexico itself doesn’t even want these immigrant caravans, the argument begins to change. That criminal element is not wanted by anyone, and of course it is the criminal element that has brought the lethal force authorization.
While there are still those in the Mexican press that think the US is somehow responsible to take these people in (just because America is wealthy), the behavior of the people, most notably the criminal element of the caravans, is beginning to show that this argument is very thin indeed.