WASHINGTON – Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) said he sees the southwest border as an “opportunity” rather than a threat, arguing that the completion of a border wall system would be “terrible” for the U.S.-Mexico relationship.
“We in San Diego, and I think all along the border, we see the border as an opportunity more than as a threat,” Peters said on a recent Southern Border Communities Coalition conference call briefing, “The Real Casualties of a Border Wall,” about ways President Trump’s “campaign promise would hurt people, commerce and the environment.”
“Crossings are at a historic low, really; building a wall is not the way to deal with security. The wall is unnecessary in the context we are dealing with today,” he added.
Peters said most local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce in Texas and California oppose the idea.
“We know how important the cross-border commerce is to our economy,” he said.
Peters called for Congress to provide Border Patrol agents with “better technologies” to detect drugs, weapons and human smuggling.
“We need probably more customs agents,” he said.
Citing Israel as an example, Peters said the U.S. must develop enhanced technology for the detection of underground tunnels along the border.
“We need to be investing in technologies that can help us detect tunnels under the walls we do have in San Diego,” he said.
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) has proposed the idea of a “smart wall” instead of a concrete wall at the southern border.
“A Smart Wall would use sensor, radar and surveillance technologies to detect and track incursions across our border so we can deploy efficiently our most important resource, the men and women of Border Patrol, to perform the most difficult task – interdiction,” Hurd wrote last year.
Peters endorsed Hurd’s idea.
“Sometimes it’s infeasible or environmentally damaging to build a wall,” he said.
Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso said the southern border is not a threat to the United States, calling that a “false narrative.”
“We in the church believe a nation does have a right to control its border but we see a border as a place of encounter, a place of bridges, as Pope Francis has often reminded us. It is a place where people ought to be able to meet,” he said on the call.
According to Department of Homeland Security data for FY2017, 303,916 illegal immigrants were apprehended “along the southwest border.” In FY2016, the total was 408,870.
Border Patrol estimated that 294 migrants died trying to get into the United States in 2017.
Seitz said a border wall is a “false solution” to a “false problem.”
“The crossing of a border should not be made a crime for which capital punishment is the consequence and that, in effect, is what we’re doing if we’re forcing people into situations where, very likely, they will die in the effort to save themselves and their family,” he said. “Walls are more symbols than solutions. They don’t get at the real causes that force people to seek to cross, and that’s what we should be looking at if we really want to stop people from crossing without authorization.”
Referring to DREAMers, Seitz also said border security should not be a “political bargaining point in which we hold hostage our young people who were brought here as children and now really need a solution.”
“[DREAMers] should not be a political bargaining chip. Walls force desperate people to take more risks. It forces them out of the places where there could be provided opportunities for entering regress into more isolated places of danger in our deserts,” the bishop said. “We’ve seen thousands of people die in their effort to cross the border.”
Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, said the “psychological wall” that Trump has already built is hurting commerce at the southern border. He suggested the federal government “invest” in border communities in place of a wall.
“We’ve already suffered without the construction of a wall,” he said. “In San Ysidro, we’ve seen a 35 percent drop in commerce. People are noticeably missing in the streets.”