Donald Trump is far from the first president to advocate a physical barrier with Mexico. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, with the Border Fence Act, undertook such projects during their respective presidencies, and both won the support of many key Democrats — including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. As of now, nearly 700 miles of such fencing already exist along the U.S. border with Mexico.
While several local-level attempts to strengthen borders have taken place since the early 1900s, the federal government first took charge of the issue in 1993 with Bill at the helm. Clinton signed off on Operation Safeguard in Arizona and Operation Hold the Line in Texas, both of which allocated federal funding for fences and other means of tightened security along the border. The following year, Operation Gatekeeper was also signed into law, constructing a similar structure where San Diego meets Mexico. In a 2001 article from the International Socialist Review, the publication condemned the former president for “creating a deadly situation for migrant workers,” citing a quote from 1996 where he spoke positively of the aggressive action.
“Since 1992, we have increased our Border Control by over 35 percent; deployed underground sensors, infrared night scopes, and encrypted radios; built miles of new fences; and installed massives amounts of new lighting.”
What Bill started continued under his successor. During the George W. years, the Bush-era Secure Fence Act of 2006 passed 80-19 in the Senate, counting the support of both Obama and Hillary Clinton. In the future president’s speech explaining his vote, Obama said that “better fences and better security along our borders” would “help stem some of the tide of illegal immigration in this country,” but he also criticized the measure as an “election-year, political solution to a real policy challenge” that left a solution “unfinished at best.”
“In addition to greater border security, we also need greater sanctions on employers who hire illegally in this country… to make it easier for those employers to identify who is eligible to work… and we need a plan to deal with the 12 million undocumented immigrants who are already here, many of whom have woven themselves into the fabric of our society.”
After approval, the George W. Bush fence with Mexico continued under the presidency of Barack Obama. In 2011, the Democratic president claimed that the Border Fence Act had reached completion, but Politifact rated the statement as “mostly false.” The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had later asked to modify the mandate for double fencing to include other less imposing structures in places it deemed less threatening along the border.
This modification is an important one when it comes to Trump’s recent executive order. With Bill Clinton and Bush already having laid down border fences, the DHS may be inclined to simply accept some of these structures as they stand. While the president previously promised that it would be 50 feet high and made of concrete, he only outlined that it be “a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier” in the recent executive order. Furthermore, the action gives the power to the secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, to report on what the best way to move forward with the structure is, leaving ample room for alterations.
Of course, there are several key difference between the Clinton and Bush fences with Mexico and the one proposed by Donald Trump. First of all, both of these presidents sought to fund the project through U.S. money. There was no promise to infringe on another country’s sovereignty by forcing them to pay for the structure, and thus, it caused nowhere near the diplomatic rift that the Trump wall has. Since the fallout, Trump has indicated that the wall may be paid for through a 20 percent tax on imports.
Secondly, the estimated cost of the new wall is much higher than its predecessor. The Bush fence, the most expansive of the two, is estimated to have eventually worked out to around $4 million per mile and $24 million per mile with upkeep, totaling around $2.3 billion since 2006. While that’s more than originally planned, it’s a small sum in comparison to the Trump’s border project, which he estimates between $8 and $12 billion and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) puts somewhere around $38 billion.
While the series of ’90s operations and the Mexico Border Fence Act didn’t attract nearly as much international outrage as Donald Trump’s wall, it is important to remember that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had their own share of hard-line moments on immigration — at least some of which counted the support of Barack Obama and Hillary.
[Featured Image by Ralph Freso/Getty Images]