By Alistair Farrow
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More migrant deaths likely at US southern border after Democrats grant Trump funding

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Issue 2642
The crowd at a Donald Trump rally in El Paso, Texas, demanding funding for a border wall
The crowd at a Donald Trump rally in El Paso, Texas, demanding funding for a border wall (Pic: Martin Knoller)

The Democratic Party handed US president Donald Trump a partial victory over funding for his border wall plan this week.

A deal agreed on Monday night allocates £1.09 billion towards beefing up border forces. Trump originally wanted £4.42 billion.

Democrats’ initial refusal to pass Trump’s funding request as part of a federal budget led to the longest partial government shutdown in US history.

Now they have proved their opposition was one of scale, not of principle.

Activist Alan Dicker from the Detained Migrants Solidarity Committee described it as a “Democratic capitulation. They went through the whole federal shutdown, and for what?”

The Democratic Party presented itself during the midterm elections as the resistance to Trump. But as Alan argued,“It’s clear there’s a part of the Democratic Party which built the border wall and built the detention system and deported migrants.

“What’s next? Their deal may have prevented another shutdown from happening—for now. But this administration will see this as a victory and just come back for more down the line.

“Meanwhile, the Democratic Party leadership are willing to make communities like ours sacrifices in their political games.”


The £1.09 billion will be used to increase border security in a targeted way—around cities and at “choke points” where it is easier to cross the border. It will fund 55 miles of fencing along the border, roughly a quarter of what Trump wanted.

The deal will reduce the number of beds the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) federal agency has access to.

ICE is currently detaining 49,000 people. It is supposed to only have the ability to detain 40,500. The deal is supposed to force it to reduce its detainees to the lower figure by the end of the 2019 financial year.

Trump said he wasn’t happy with the deal. The threat that he might declare a national emergency at the US/Mexico border to force through funding still looms large. At a rally on Monday night Trump indicated he might go ahead and do that.

“Just so you know, we’re building the wall anyway,” he said.

The Democrats have held themselves up as the people resisting Trump’s racism. But they have consistently shown themselves to be prepared to make concessions.

Welcome to America: our vicious border controls just got nastier
Welcome to America: our vicious border controls just got nastier
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Winning control of the House of Representatives was supposed to be a decisive step. They could block any deal for extra border security funding—but they won’t.

Increased border security is designed to kill people. Strategic border enforcement around cities forces people to take more dangerous routes through the desert.

“Huge groups are trying to cross the Rio Grande river,” said Alan. “There is a group in Ciudad Juarez being detained in an abandoned factory by the Mexican army and police.

“The Border Patrol is only letting 12 people across into the US every day at the ports of entry. Because of this people are crossing further down the border in the desert. This puts people more at risk and even more vulnerable to exploitation by people traffickers.”

This tactic goes back to various border policies introduced in the 1990s under Democratic president Bill Clinton.

At the heart of these polices was a strategy of death and violence toward people trying to cross the border.


It involved Border Patrol agents lining the border and physically barring the way. The strategy was pioneered in the border town of El Paso in Texas. Clinton’s attorney general Janet Reno—Doris Meissner’s boss—travelled there to see the results and it was rolled out along the border.

There are many different estimates of how many people have died attempting to cross the border between the US and Mexico. But they all show a big spike in migrant deaths following the policy shift in the mid-1990s.

The Border Patrol’s own statistics put the figure at 6,915 between 1998 and 2016. Other groups—both activist and non-governmental organisation—have much higher estimates.

There are many reasons for difference in estimates. Importantly, the Border Patrol figures are based on remains of bodies found.

Yet the force does not patrol the Mexican side of the border. And the vast area it does patrol means many people are likely to go undetected, and their bodies undiscovered.

Trump’s plan for the border wall rests on the foundations laid for him by previous administrations—both Republican and Democrat. It will turn the US’s southern border into a machine for killing people looking to make a better life for themselves.

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