United States’ (US) President Donald Trump signed a deal last month formally ending the longest government shutdown in the country’s history. In order to prevent a second shutdown, Congress this week reluctantly approved Trump’s decision to declare a state of national emergency over the funding of his proposed wall across the US-Mexican border. This decision to prioritise the funding of the wall in contrast to other large scale threats such as climate change has been described by some as constituting a drastic misuse of emergency powers.
Previous presidents have declared national emergencies in the past, such as with the September 11 terrorist attacks and with sanctions aimed at preventing the illicit trade of natural resources, in order to prevent conflict and sustain peace. However, Trump’s ‘national emergency’ seemingly encourages the reverse.
Border security between the US and Mexico is the predominant reason behind Trumps call for construction. The main point of concern from the US stems from the illegal movement of people and drugs through its borders. To this extent, Trump has often referred to the border situation as both a humanitarian and security crisis. Many, however, have argued that the situation on the border is not as critical as other issues facing the country including climate change and economic wellbeing.
Earlier this week, Trump stated that the United States faces “an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs.” In contrast, many others, such as the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler, have refuted the authenticity of this ‘invasion’. Nadler instead highlights that Trump’s aggressive rhetoric ignores the many vulnerable families and children at the US-Mexico border who are not “foreign invaders”.
Coincidently, statistics from US Customs and Border Protection illustrate that there has actually been a decreasing amount of people entering illegally into the US since 2000. Despite Trump’s insistence that the United States is in need of protection from an imminent ‘invasion’ of criminals, Ali Noorani – Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum – argues that this attitude only increases the risk of violence, “Manufacturing an emergency where none exists at the expense of a sustainable immigration compromise does not make us safer and does not reflect the values of Americans”.
As Trump aims to “paint an inaccurate picture of [the] southern border”, according to Noorani, two critical issues emerge that serve to potentially disrupt long-term peace in the region:
Firstly, part of the danger inherent in Trump’s declaration lies in the questionable term of ‘emergency’. Whilst many organisations, such as Human Rights Watch, argue that there is a real humanitarian problem at the US border, construction of the proposed wall would arguably do nothing to rectify the problem. This suggests that the issue at hand has been labelled as a ‘national emergency’ for funding and publicity reasons, rather than to prevent conflict. This raises concern for how Trump will handle future issues.
Secondly, the construction itself would require the redirection of money away from other areas of focus such as drug prevention and disaster relief. This signifies that a lack of prioritisation is given to other threats posed towards the US, especially climate change. As such, Trump’s persistence on the protection of a hardline national security agenda ignores other forms of security such as environmental and human security. On the former, for example, the construction of the wall will have numerous impacts on critically endangered wildlife species whilst also exacerbating flooding, according to a report by National Geographic.
The existence of a wall itself is not only damaging physically by preventing vulnerable people from seeking asylum within the US, but also critically as a damaging symbol against hope. It is crucial that both the short-term and long-term dangers to the wellbeing of those most vulnerable should be remedied. A key step in this achieving this would be through regional cooperation with Mexico and Central American countries. This would help better understand the nature of the refugee crisis and should encourage the US to step outside of its isolationism and see beyond the wall.
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