WASHINGTON – Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) said today that the idea of finishing the U.S.-Mexico border wall is “obsolete” and that the U.S. government should tear down the existing fencing.
“The important thing to remember is Mexico is an ally, not an enemy. Our two countries share tremendous economic, cultural and social ties. The idea that we would ever have thought about building a fence or a wall between these two countries is just very difficult to believe. To me, a wall is a fence and a fence is a wall,” Vela said during a press conference alongside other House Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Double-layer fencing is present in some sections of the southern border while other areas have a vehicle barrier or no fencing. Spending bills that are being considered in the House include funding for building about 70 miles of the border barrier.
Vela said President Reagan called for tearing down the Berlin Wall because it was a “bad idea,” so Congress should do the same with the existing fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The idea of building a wall between the two Germanys was a bad idea and that’s why he decided to tear it down,” Vela said. “We are going to vote against these measures, but if it was up to me I would bulldoze the existing wall.”
Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) argued that spending taxpayer funds on expanding the barriers at the border is wasteful.
“This bill should be about funding defense priorities, not cleaning up after Trump’s failures,” he said.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said people pay human smugglers “a lot of money” to come into the U.S. over the border illegally because there is no other way for them to come.
“When there isn’t an immigration system that allows them to apply for a visa, they will go run into the hands of smugglers. Refugees will go around the legal system if there is no legal system, and the wall will not help it one bit,” he said.
Gutierrez charged that supporters of expanding the existing border barriers want a wall to serve as a “death trap” for migrants and give Americans a “false sense of security.”
“What you need are modern solutions to modern problems. You need a modern, functioning immigration system, not a wall,” he said. “The wall in China today is what? A tourist attraction – just open up the brochure, that’s all it is, a tourist attraction. In America, they want to make it into a death trap for immigrants trying to come into the country.”
Gutierrez had a direct message for his party over its treatment of Latino voters and issues. He called on Democratic leaders to “protect” the immigrant community the same way as women, the LGBT community and environmental groups.
“We are tired of being some second-tier agenda within the platform of the Democratic Party,” he said. “In the last election, yes, a lot of people didn’t come out that voted in 2012 – but not Latinos. We came out in record numbers.”
Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) asked the public to “imagine” if Canada decided to erect a border wall or if border walls popped up “all over” the European Union.
“Walls are a thing of the past. In fact, the global economy requires greater cooperation among countries so this $1.6 billion effort, a sneaky effort at that, one that tried to connect to some worthy budgetary ideas, is nothing but a strategy of the past,” he said. “We are here to say no to that. We are here to say we need our government to engage in positive actions with people across the country that are hurting economically.”
Espaillat said that an “obsolete” border wall wouldn’t “restrain the aspirations of people globally.” He added that a wall would hinder the “better opportunity” for migrants to enter the U.S.
“We want a down vote on this,” he said.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is trying to prevent debate on the wall in the House by allowing it to be attached to defense appropriations.
“This is not a separate bill. This is being attached to defense appropriations making it very difficult for members of Congress, though it shouldn’t be because it’s a sham, because the only way you pay for some of the defense bill is by voting for this for with this attached, without any debate,” he said. “It was not an open process, and even now we don’t have the ability to introduce amendments to strip it out.”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said President Trump should not be requesting taxpayer funding for the wall after his campaign promise that Mexico would pay for it.
“It clearly had no basis in fact, and in fact the Mexicans have said we are not paying for this wall,” Hoyer said. “This bill is an admission that Mexico will not pay for the wall. It’s another example that Donald Trump talked a big game about making deals, but in the end he was full of hot air.”