Whether or not you believe a border wall is worth the cost, there shouldn’t be too much doubt in terms of whether it provides security. It’s more difficult to cross into the United States with a barrier than without it. That’s elementary thinking.
And then, if you believe the wall was a waste of resources to put up, imagine the waste of resources to take it down. Even if you don’t believe it was worth the investment required to put it up, it’s a sunk cost. It’s up there.
This seems to be self-evident — and yet Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security won’t commit to keeping it up.
In his confirmation hearings before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday, Alejandro Mayorkas said he wouldn’t be putting any more wall up — no surprise — and that he would only be “looking at” keeping the 452 miles of border wall constructed by the Trump administration in place.
Mayorkas made the remarks when asked by Oklahoma GOP Sen. James Lankford whether he would “recommend any of the physical barriers along our southern border be dismantled or removed,” according to the Daily Mail.
“I haven’t looked at that specific question,” he said.
“I will share with you the fact that I agree with the approach that then-Sen. [John] McCain — an American hero in my family and in this country — that Sen. McCain took to the border, which is, it’s not a monolithic challenge,” Mayorkas continued, referencing the late Arizona Republican.
“The border is varied depending on the geography, depending on the specific venue and depending on the conduct of individuals around it. And we don’t need, nor should we have, a monolithic answer to that varied and diverse challenge.”
Lankford agreed that there were certain parts of the border where a natural border would work but said the wall works because it “slows people down” and “pushes people toward the point of entry.”
Mayorkas responded that he’d talked to Border Patrol agents and they favored a combination of approaches, which included barriers as well as more resources, technology and other equipment.
“What I heard is we need a diverse approach to border security,” Mayorkas said.
However, when he was asked whether he supported giving additional resources to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to carry out its mission, he hedged.
“That requires my study,” Mayorkas said.
I’ve referenced Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Scoop” a few times in my writings, mostly because the tabloid in the novel provided the website The Daily Beast with its name. In this case, I’m reminded of how the top assistant to the paper’s imperious owner, Lord Copper, would answer his boss whenever a question was posed or a matter of importance was being discussed.
Given the temperament of Lord Copper, it was unwise to tell him no. So, if the answer was yes, the reply was easy: “Definitely, Lord Copper.” If the answer had to be no, however: “Up to a point, Lord Copper.”
I cannot claim the ability to see into the future, but given my experience with confirmation hearings, answers like “that requires my study” and “I haven’t looked at that specific question” sound a lot like “up to a point, Lord Copper.”
The president-elect has made it clear he would immediately halt President Donald Trump’s border wall project, although he’s said nothing about tearing the wall down. Mayorkas told the committee he’d have to weigh the cost-benefit analysis of the matter.
“President-elect Biden has committed to stop construction of the border wall. It would be my responsibility to execute on that commitment, and I have not looked at the question of what we do with respect to the wall that already has been built,” he said, according to the New York Post.
This, again, seems a bit odd given that the wall is a sunk cost. There’s no realistic benefit to removing physical borders, particularly in areas prone to illegal crossings and human trafficking — unless you’re admitting the ease of crossing would be the benefit.
For the moment, Mayorkas’ confirmation is gummed up a bit. GOP Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley has placed a hold on his nomination, although this is unlikely to have any substantive effect on Mayorkas’ ability to get confirmed.
The hold has to do with the fact Congress passed a bill last month appropriating $1.4 billion for border wall construction. Mayorkas admitted under questioning by Hawley that, given the appropriation, stopping the wall might not just be as easy as Biden taking the oath of office and making a phone call to the construction crews on the southern border, telling them to cut the malarkey.
But darned if Mayorkas isn’t going to try.
“What I would need to do is to understand what the law provides with respect to the obligation of funds to construct the border wall and see what the opportunities are to discontinue any such obligations if in fact the law permits,” Mayorkas said.
“Mr. Mayorkas has not adequately explained how he will enforce federal law and secure the southern border given President-elect Biden’s promise to roll back major enforcement and security measures,” Hawley said in a news release Tuesday.
“Just today, he declined to say he would enforce the laws Congress has already passed to secure the border wall system. Given this, I cannot consent to skip the standard vetting process and fast-track this nomination when so many questions remain unanswered.”
However, a hold isn’t baked into the Senate’s rules so much as it is an informal practice that depends on the forbearance of Senate leadership.
“Senators place holds to accomplish a variety of purposes — to receive notification of upcoming legislative proceedings, for instance, or to express objections to a particular proposal or executive nomination — but ultimately the decision to honor a hold request, and for how long, rests with the majority leader,” a 2017 Congressional Research Service paper on the matter read.
Since New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer will almost certainly become the majority leader Wednesday and appeasing Josh Hawley isn’t on the top of any Democrat’s agenda, however, don’t expect that hold to last.
There is a Rorschach-esque element to Mayorkas’ answers Tuesday.
On one hand, Biden’s DHS nominee didn’t indicate he was going to tear down the border wall as part of a ridiculous symbolic gesture that wastes money to prove Trump’s border wall was a waste of money — and a xenophobic one at that. On the other hand, the fact that he didn’t say he wouldn’t do that is unsettling, too.
There was a border wall before Donald Trump became president, after all, and no DHS nominee particularly needs to answer whether tearing that down would be a good idea. In fact, anyone who said that — be he a Republican or Democrat nominee — would almost immediately disqualify himself.
So what makes this border wall different? The fact that Trump got elected promising to build it, mostly.
It’s one thing to disagree with building it. It’s quite another to question whether it should be torn down now that it’s there.
The money can’t be unspent; the bell can’t be unrung. Those are facts no one needs to study.
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