In-Depth: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) introduced this bill to fully fund the border wall Trump promised during his presidential campaign:
“President Trump has called for a border wall and I agree. As a former builder and developer in south Texas, I know border security is national security and we need to do more to deter the growing numbers of unauthorized immigrants coming across our borders. That’s why I’ve outlined specific ways to fund the border wall by assessing penalties on illegal immigration and closing loopholes that allow unauthorized immigrants to receive federal benefits. We’re going to build the wall through reforms that protect the integrity of hardworking American citizens’ tax dollars. It’s that simple.”
In an interview with Breitbart News, Sen. Inhofe said this bill would fulfill President Trump’s promises to both fund and build his southern border wall and have Mexico, or Mexican illegal immigrants, pay for it:
“Here’s the fun part: you’re taking the money out of people that are not entitled to something from this country, but there has been a lot of criticism of the president that it [the wall] is going to be paid for by Mexico. Well, this is. This is paid for by Mexicans or by foreigners who are in here fleecing our government. So you can say to simplify it: it’s paid for by Mexicans because most of them who are coming in are coming even if they are not Mexicans, are coming through the Mexican border… We were collectively working on it, and, as everyone knows — and I agree — we need the wall, and you have to pay for the wall. We have an unfriendly Democratic party on the wall issue, and so our thinking was that we have to come up with some way that makes perfectly good sense to the American people that would be opposed by the Democrats but would also be very hard to oppose it… Second, essentially, what we do is take those benefits that are going to illegals, and in other words, people that are not citizens and those are the ones that are cheating our taxpayers, taking the money, and instead of giving it to them, we are keeping it for ourselves to build the wall. Now, it works out that this is as an example, a Child Tax Credit or other similar tax credits, actually go to the child and don’t go to the parent; the parent is the one that ends up getting the money.”
Original cosponsor Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) adds that this bill doesn't risk stretching existing agency budgets:
“The primary responsibility of the federal government is the defense of our nation, which includes strong border security. The WALL Act will provide full funding for construction of a physical barrier along our southern border to protect against illegal immigration and stop those who wish to do us harm, such as terrorists, gang members, and drug dealers, from entering the United States from the south. It pays for the wall by closing existing loopholes that allow illegal immigrants to receive federal benefits and increasing fines for illegal border crossings and visa overstays. By funding the wall through increased fines, we prevent any risk of dipping into the Department of Defense (DOD) funding, which is already stretched thin.”
During his Breitbart interview, Sen. Inhofe said that President Trump expressed support for this legislation during a meeting between the two. According to Inhofe, Trump thought highly of the bill and subsequently asked his staff to investigate the idea.
Broadly speaking, Democrats are opposed to Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the southern border. In the final days of 2018, Democrats refused to meet Trump’s request for $5.7 billion for the wall, offering only the current $1.3 billion in annual funding for border fencing instead. Due to the impasse, Congress was unable to pass a budget bill, and the government entered a partial shutdown at midnight on Friday, December 21, 2018.
Prior to December 2018, Democrats had previously offered Trump money for the border wall — including a bipartisan Senate proposal giving $25 billion for the border wall in exchange for protections for DREAMers — in exchange for broader immigration reforms, only to see Trump blow up negotiations for hardline demands, such as cutting legal immigration levels.
In explaining his party’s opposition to border wall funding, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) called the wall a “fourth-century strategy”:
“Thirty-foot concrete wall, 30-foot steel spikes, that's not the smart way, and that's what all the experts on the border tell us… The American people want us to spend money in a smart way…. “$5 billion is a lot of money. That's 650,000 children attending Head Start. It's 2 million meals a day for a year — for a year for — for seniors. And to spend it on a fourth-century strategy rather than on stuff that actually improves border security is something we're just not going to do… The president has a lot of money we gave him last year for border security and he's not using it… We have a plan, a bipartisan plan, that's on the table. We have the 2013 plan that passed by a supermajority in the Senate that would address the vast bulk of these issues. So, we're ready for a broader discussion. The president hasn't been there.”
Several conservative groups have questioned a border wall’s true effectiveness if it isn’t combined with more interior enforcement, worker verification protections, and greater restrictions on asylum. The Center for Immigration Studies, FAIR, and NumbersUSA, who have long advocated for tightening immigration controls, have expressed particular concern about guest worker programs. NumbersUSA’s deputy director, Chris Chmielenski, points out that a wall alone won’t end illegal immigration:
“The border wall alone isn’t going to end illegal immigration… [A] border wall… will have very little if any impact on deterring future illegal immigration but in return you’re increasing guest workers programs. For us, that’s not a great trade off.”
This bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee with the support of four cosponsors, all of whom are Republicans. No organizations have made formal statements of support for this legislation.
Of Note: This bill is designed to complement the Asylum Abuse Reduction Act, which Sen. Inhofe introduced in August. That bill seeks to address immigration loopholes to improve the asylum process’ integrity.
According to a CBO report in December 2016, requiring EITC and child tax credit claimants to have social security numbers that are valid for employment could have saved the government as much as $37.4 billion dollars over the 2017-2026 period. This is because currently, some people who aren’t authorized to work in the U.S. can receive the ETIC because they were issued SSNs before 2003 due to the need to have them to obtain drivers’ licenses and open bank accounts. The Social Security Administration (SSA) no longer issues SSNs for those purposes, but the SSNs issued before 2003 couldn’t be rescinded.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / CampPhoto)