Schumer Defends Opposing Border Wall After Voting for Secure Fence Act of 2006

Schumer Defends Opposing Border Wall After Voting for Secure Fence Act of 2006
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks with reporters at the Capitol on Feb. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) defended his vote in favor of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and his opposition to President Trump’s proposed wall for open areas along the border.

In addition to Schumer, Democrats including former Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.) voted for the Secure Fence Act but the fencing that the bill called for was not fully completed. Trump, who originally called for a concrete wall that was blocked by Congress, says his current border security plan would install “see through” steel barriers at open portions of the border that currently lack fencing. According to the Border Patrol, drug smugglers and human traffickers have cut more than 1,700 holes in the fencing along the border in San Diego since 2015.

PJM asked Schumer, “You voted for the Secure Fence Act in 2006. Will you support additional barriers on the border?” The Democratic leader replied, “No wall – didn’t have it then and doesn’t have it now.”

Congressional leaders unveiled a plan to avoid another government shutdown that allocates $1.375 billion for 55 miles of fencing in the Rio Grande Valley instead of the $5.7 billion sought by the president. Federal funding runs out at the end of the day Friday. Last week, Schumer told PJM that Congress and the White House were “making progress” toward a deal.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, argued that Democrats should support additional physical barriers along the border instead of relying on Border Patrol agents for security.

“I remember when Peter King offered that very important bill. You read the text of that: It lays out and envisions where a fence is feasible, where electronic capabilities ought to be used, you use that, obviously mountains, water, in places where fences or a wall have no application, but that you make a serious attempt to try to make this work,” Smith said.

“I am shocked that Schumer and others who voted for that – the lack of faithfulness in saying the border ought to be secured is appalling to me. Don’t play games with the American people. I voted for the original amnesty back in ’86 and I was all for it, still am for it, but that said, Reagan signed it into law and the employer sanctions part was not faithfully implemented, either,” he added.

Smith argued that preventing physical barriers from being installed at certain areas of the border puts U.S. authorities in harm’s way.

“I can’t believe some people call the wall immoral when at the same time having Democrats who voted for it, including Schumer and Hillary Clinton,” Smith told PJM during an interview conducted at the recent March for Life. “They have voted to put more agents and security personnel on the border – that turns human beings into a wall where they can get shot, put their lives at risk.”

Smith continued, “I would rather have a barrier, a fence, that does the work that a person wouldn’t have to do putting his or her life at risk of getting shot or hurt in some way. So they are all for a barrier but they want a human barrier, and a human barrier means that men or women might not come home at the end of the day like any police officer or somebody in law enforcement. Why do you want that additional risk to our people on the border? I’m talking about the law enforcement.”

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), assistant House Democratic leader, said he would not support physical barriers at the open areas of the border that lack fencing even if Trump was willing to sign a path to citizenship for DREAMers.

“The DREAMers should not be used as trading cards in this effort,” he said, pointing out that Trump reversed Obama’s executive action that had offered DREAMers protection from deportation. “The president can fix that with the use of that pen again and, quite honestly, the Congress should pass the DREAM Act.”

Lujan slammed Trump’s decision to send more troops to the border to deal with the caravan.

“The United States should not be militarizing our border. The crisis that the president talks about at the southern border does not exist,” Lujan told PJM during an interview after the State of the Union address last week. “I was just down in Brownsville this weekend. We were visiting with community leaders and members. The chairman of the Homeland Security Committee Bennie Thompson was also there. We met with families whose land would be taken away in order to build the president’s wall. Again, there’s no rhyme or reason for the president’s policy on militarizing the border or on his wall.”

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) was asked if he would support the $5.7 billion Trump has requested for physical border barriers if that was tied to a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers.

“If there was a comprehensive immigration reform bill, I could vote for it if it had elements of physical barriers in it, if there was also values I believe are important, such are DREAMers, providing legal protection for TPS [Temporary Protected Status] and also a pathway to citizenship,” Lieu responded.