Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 16, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — There was a time when Republicans and Democrats alike believed that a nation without borders is not a nation at all.
U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville) was reminded of that during a fact-finding trip last week at the U.S.-Mexico border.
As he looked out at the broken dividing line from the El Paso Sector, Steil saw a section of barrier that was built with bipartisan congressional support. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 provided for 700 miles of fencing on the U.S. southern border with Mexico. Then-Sen. Barack Obama supported the bill as did then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and 23 other Senate Democrats.
Connected to that monument to national security is a section of barrier built under the Trump administration in 2017. And then … there is no barrier, no fence, no wall at all.
“In speaking with border patrol agents whose duty it is to patrol this area for illegal entry and also for illicit drug trafficking, I got the opportunity to hear time and time again how well walls work,” Steil told Empower Wisconsin in an interview this week.
People work, too.
But congress has yet to fully fund the Border Patrol positions needed. As of February, there were 19,400 U.S. agents working border security, at least 6,600 less than the Department of Homeland Security called for.
That was about the time Gov. Tony Evers recalled the 100-plus Wisconsin National Guard troops from the Arizona-Mexico border. Evers joined other Democrat governors dismissing the Trump administration’s warnings of a growing national crisis along the U.S.-Mexico line.
“There is simply not ample evidence to support the president’s contention of a national security crisis at our southwestern border,” Evers wrote in a tweet.
Evers’ move rescinded the order by his predecessor, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, that deployed 112 Guard soldiers and airmen to the area on June 21, 2018.
Turns out there was a national crisis. By May caravans of illegal immigrants were cramming the border, many seeking asylum, many more seeking openings in the porous border. In May, Southwest border patrol tallied a record 132,859 apprehensions of illegal immigrants, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“That’s where our National Guard soldiers come in to fill that gap,” Steil said. “When you have a large number of people coming across that border, that takes a lot of manpower to deal with.”
Evers and his political compatriots don’t get that.
The latest numbers show 19,700 border patrol agents, an increase of just 300 border watchers since February. Democrats have refused to pass funding bills to boost the patrol’s ranks.
Apprehensions remain high but have fallen off, in large part, experts say, because of the cooperation President Trump secured with Mexico and Honduras in curbing the tide of illegal immigrants.
It’s long past time for congress to act, Steil said.
“It’s critical we move forward and build the wall. It’s critical to provide the national security our country needs,” he said.