Written by Winnie Jung
On the day I am typing up this article, January 15th, the United States of America is twenty-five days into the partial government shutdown. The current shutdown is the longest in American History. This means 25% of the federal workforce is still working, but not getting paid on time. Moreover, some federal departments and museums like the Smithsonian have been closed. Most Americans are indirectly affected by the shutdown. Before I elaborate on the divisive responses to this political pandemonium, here are the cold, hard facts.
The federal government shutdown started when President Donald Trump and Congress disagreed on funding for a wall on the US and Mexico border. Trump and most of the Republicans demanded a funding package of 5.7 billion dollars for the construction of a wall, while most Democrats opposed the construction. Trump desired construction, claiming there was a “tremendous flow of illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and human trafficking” coming across the southern border. If, according to Trump, we had a powerful steel or concrete barrier, these “illegal” immigrants wouldn’t be able to “make that turn.”
In response to the president’s claims, House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi described the president’s speech as “full of misinformation and malice” and his proposal as expensive and ineffective. Since a majority of “illegal” immigrants enter the US by simply overstaying their visas rather than physically crossing the border, the Democrats argued for a different solution. Rather than constructing a wall, they claim that new infrastructure, roads, and technology would protect the border much more effectively. According to Pelosi, “President Trump has chosen to hold hostage critical services for the health safety, and well-being of the American people.” A sizable 800,000 innocent workers across the nation, amidst this political dogfight, had their paychecks withheld in the wake of the government shutdown.
Another Democrat and United States Senator Chuck Schumer asserted, “The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall.”
All in all, what the Democrats want is an immediate halt of the shutdown. Reopening the government would enable both sides to work on resolving differences over border security.
With both sides clashing so dramatically, some officials say the White House is considering declaring a national emergency. Declaring such would provide funding for the wall without the approval of the Congress. There is a dispute regarding this declaration; some assert it is an illegal abuse of power while others disagree.
Now that the facts are established, it is worth looking at the reactions of the American citizens themselves, or more specifically, the students of La Cañada High School.
Some students, most likely aware and afraid of undocumented immigration, approve of the wall.
“I think that honestly, the wall isn’t a bad thing. It has a lot of negative views that are really prominent in the media, but there needs to be a physical barrier that will keep people from immigrating illegally and make legal immigration a more open option. By doing that, it can hopefully make reforms in legal immigration to make it an easier option for people who need it,” Sofia Luque (11) said.
Regarding the recent shutdown, Sofia asserted, “I think it’s not the best possible solution to getting things done, but it might be the only way to make progress in Congress because of the division between both sides”.
While many LCHS students have mixed reactions regarding the shutdown and the wall, Tyler Williamson (11) has no doubts.
“I’m more impartial towards the government shutdown because it doesn’t directly affect me. On a very libertarian standpoint, I couldn’t care less,” Tyler claimed, ”However, in terms of the wall, I believe we do need it as Obama acknowledged a crisis in 2009.”
Conversely, others are seeing red because of the status quo of this country. Eli Coffey (11) and Stephanie Yu (11) are just a few among the students who are critical of the president’s xenophobia.
“First of all, the wall isn’t effective in what it’s supposed to be doing. It doesn’t have any efficacy. Most people crossing the border to get to the United States illegally are doing so via airplanes, where a lot of them are simply overstaying their legal visas. That’s most of the cases, not physically crossing borders!” Stephanie said.
Eli Coffey chimed in, saying, “I agree. It’s expensive; you have to maintain it, it really doesn’t do anything, and it’s just a lot of money. It feels more like a political stunt. It’s just a way to say that you’re against immigrants, not an actual policy position. It doesn’t accomplish anything.”
The duo also pinpointed the president and his supporters, citing multiple flawed, often inflated statistics, as demonstrated in the “unfortunate misstatement” made by White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Fox News. Mrs. Sanders faced harsh criticism after claiming that nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists came into the U.S. via the southern border while reports actually showed only 6 immigrants on the Terrorist Screening Database were found at the border. Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President and proud creator of “alternative facts,” came to her fellow Republican’s defense by stating that “everyone makes mistakes.”
“The thing with Trump is that he uses huge numbers, but most of them aren’t real. That applies perfectly to the wall issue. Take his inauguration numbers for example. They were totally fake,” said Stephanie.
Eli noted, “Trump finds some obscure source, modifies it to be even more in his favor, and it ends up being inaccurate yet dangerously powerful.”
At this point, some may wonder about the significance of the president declaring a national emergency. A national emergency gives presidents the broad authority to take action in a crisis. It was used in numerous emergencies such as the 9/11 attack and the spread of swine flu in 2009. Both cases had the United States inflicted with economic as well as collateral damage. For instance, an estimated 59 million Americans had contracted the H1N1 virus in 2009. With national emergencies declared in such obviously urgent situations, some people question if the wall is indeed a response to an actual national emergency. Since a majority of “illegal” immigrants enter the US by simply overstaying their visas, it is indeed logical to question whether this is indeed a response to a crisis or simply the politicization of national security issues. This question is thoroughly backed up by statistics.
During fiscal 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) found that 701,900 immigrants with visas remained in the U.S. past their expected departure date, more than double the number of immigrants apprehended at the border during that same time frame. A report by the Center for Migration Studies found this pattern to be true for every year since 2007. At this point, it is reasonable to question if a 5 billion dollar wall is indeed an efficient solution to making legal immigration more preferable, when most illegal immigration occurs via overstaying visas. Moreover, it is reasonable to contemplate the better choice between starving 800,000 innocent Americans and separating the shutdown from arguments over border security. While everyone was drunk in happiness celebrating Christmas, Trump’s government shutdown reared its controversial head. Wall or no wall, the judgment is up to you.