Evan Vucci / AP
Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 | 2 a.m.
By joining 15 other states in a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration on the border wall, Nevada has positioned itself in exactly the right place on the issue.
Bravo to Attorney General Aaron Ford for showing that Nevada won’t stand by as Trump trashes the constitutional structure of the government and makes a false, purely political justification for pursuing his monument to bigotry and xenophobia.
Let’s be clear: The border situation is no emergency. The number of arrests along the southwest border last year — a little under 400,000 — was less than the average over the previous decade. And while arrests had ticked up slightly in 2018, it’s crucial to note that in 2017 they had hit their lowest level since 1971. Keep in mind, too, that during the 1980s and 1990s, annual arrests at the border rarely fell below 1 million.
Yet there was no emergency then, or when arrests peaked at 1.6 million in 2000 — four times more than last year.
Meanwhile, the billions of dollars that Trump would divert from other budgets to pay for the wall include money to support law enforcement and the military, including for construction of housing and schools for members of the armed services and their families. That’s unthinkable, considering that thousands of military families, in a survey last week, reported such problems as severe mold, asbestos and electrical hazards in their housing.
But one doesn’t even need to go there: The funds can’t be touched because they were allocated by Congress, exercising its powers under Article I of the Constitution.
Ford got it right when he said in a statement that Trump “cannot sidestep our Constitution for a political ploy.”
“The Trump administration’s proposed diversion of funds would waste billions of dollars that is dedicated to supporting our military and law enforcement agencies,” Ford said. “I am proud to join this lawsuit to defend our Constitution, our state’s military bases, and Nevada’s law enforcement agencies.”
Border security is needed. But statistics from law enforcement suggest that authorities are doing a good job at dealing with dangerous criminals already. And it is well known and supported by years of data that the overwhelming majority of people crossing the border illegally have a lower rate of violent crime than the typical American citizen.
Additionally, there are ways to improve security that don’t involve funneling $8 billion into wall.
Walls confer a false sense of security to people who are frightened by fearmongers and who don’t know what it’s like to live near the border. Significantly, most border towns don’t want or need more walls. On the border points of entry, the walls are there to control and channel access to people crossing — they don’t stop criminals. Criminals and drug smugglers easily can get over or around a wall. Or they can simply take to the sea. What’s next, walling off American beaches?
None of this silliness will stop drugs and crime from coming in.
Drug interdiction is a complicated business that needs to be tackled on multiple fronts — and usually to be truly successful relies on stopping drugs at their source with cooperating countries, as the U.S. did in Colombia. Successful interdiction efforts require agile minds, careful analysis and interagency cooperation, not the simplistic, raging belligerence of a man-child president looking for an applause line at a rally.
Other steps include making legal ports of entry more secure, hiring additional personnel and investing in technology. A critical need is to address the clog-up in asylum requests that is leaving migrants living for long periods of time in terrible conditions, leading to confrontations and prompting more people to try entering in dangerous remote areas or pay smugglers to sneak them into the country.
So there are problems at the border, no doubt. But many of them are of Trump’s own making.
If you want a real border crisis, look no further than the children Trump ripped from their parents, some of whom might never be reunited.
Moreover, Trump’s definitions of his imagined “crisis” on the border change all the time. At first, it was Mexico sending “criminals and rapists,” then it was people taking American jobs, then it was drugs, then it was human trafficking — complete with lurid images of women duct-taped in backs of cars and terrorists creeping over the border.
Trump saw those images in a fictional movie but quotes them as fact, when no one can find evidence of either.
See, Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about on the border. He does have one actual emergency, but it’s a political one — he got his fanny kicked by Nancy Pelosi on funding for the wall (after earlier losing to Paul Ryan as well) and needs to do something dramatic to get attention off of his miserable loss and sate the anger of right-wing pundits. This is all just an ugly show, and then we’ll be back to cheeseburger stains on his pillow and name-calling on Twitter.
Except our nation doesn’t work like that.
Thank goodness for Nevada voters, who elected Ford and others into positions of leadership last November to push back in situations just like this.
The state’s Democratic congressional delegates, to their credit, have all vowed to fight the declaration. A sampling of their reactions:
• Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.: “I’m disappointed that President Trump has chosen to disregard bipartisan negotiations by Congress that funded $1.375 billion for border security technology and investment. Instead, the president’s decision to declare a national emergency will redirect funds from programs that are already on the ground combating drug trafficking and will also withdraw critical funds from our military.”
• Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev.: “While I’m relieved to see Congress pass a funding deal that keeps the government open, there is no justification for the president to declare a national emergency at the border.”
• Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.: “The president’s claim that there is a crisis at the border is simply not true. Declaring a national emergency to build a costly, ineffective border wall is illegal and a grotesque abuse of power. The symbol of America must always remain the Statue of Liberty, not a border wall.”
• Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., said using the declaration “to fulfill a campaign promise is a gross and unprecedented abuse of power,” while Rep. Stephen Horsford, D-Nev., called it unconstitutional and warned that it could siphon away money for construction at Nellis Air Force Base.
In signing Nevada on to the lawsuit, Ford provided an extra layer of commitment for the state to hold Trump accountable.
That’s exactly as it should be. Ford and other state leaders who are challenging Trump are doing precisely what the voters put them in place to do.