EL PASO, Texas – Taking a leaf out of President Reagan’s playbook, Beto O’Rourke says he would tear down that wall.
Interviewed by Chris Hayes for the “All In” show on MSNBC, the former El Paso Congressman was asked if he would take down the border wall erected in his hometown ten years ago. He answered affirmatively.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan called on the Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” during a speech in West Berlin in June, 1987. A border wall had divided east and west Berlin since 1961.
MSNBC presenter Hayes anchored his show from El Paso. He asked O’Rourke to respond to a tweet from Congressman Dan Crenshaw, a freshman Republican from Texas, that asked if O’Rourke would take down the border wall already erected in El Paso.
“Yes, absolutely. I would take the wall down,” O’Rourke responded.
Asked if the people of El Paso would support the wall coming down, if the question was posed in a referendum, O’Rourke said they would.
“Here is what we know, after the Secure Fence Act we built 600 miles of walls and fencing on a 2,000-mile border. What that has done is not in any demonstrable way made us safer. It has cost us tens of billions of dollars to build and to maintain and it has pushed migrants and asylum seekers and refugees to the most inhospitable, the most hostile stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border, ensuring their suffering and death,” O’Rourke said.
“More than 4,000 human beings, little kids, women and children have died. They are not in cages, they are not locked up, they are not separated, they are dead, over the last ten years as we have walled off their opportunity to legally petition for asylum Ito cross in urban centers like El Paso, to be with family, to work jobs, to do what any human should have a right to be able to do, what we would do if faced with the same circumstances they were in.”
Hayes suggested O’Rourke was calling for a completely different approach to the border security policies enacted since the terrorist attacks of 2001. O’Rourke responded:
“It is perverse, the response that we have to legitimate concerns and problems. International terrorism, which was orchestrated in Afghanistan by Al Qaeda, carried out by people from Saudi Arabia, we punished people from Mexico at the U.S.-Mexico border, deport in one year alone 400,000 Mexican nationals from this country, from a response to 9/11.
“We wall off 600 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. Precisely zero terrorists or terrorist organizations have ever used the border to attack a single American. So, we do this whether it is the War on Terror or the War on Drugs. We project our fears and anxieties to places like El Paso, to the U.S.-Mexico border and punish the people who live here. There is no reason to do that. But, it is the fear and the anxiety that is stoked by people who should and frankly do know better, that results in these policies.”
O’Rourke narrowly lost a U.S. Senate election to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas last November. There is speculation he will run for president in 2020. Last Monday, O’Rourke held a competing rally to President Trump in El Paso. Asked what message he was trying to send to the rest of the United States in the speech, O’Rourke said the event was amazing.
“It was so powerful, so profoundly positive, there was no anger, there was no resentment, there was nothing negative about it. It was a celebration of what makes El Paso so special. The fact that we are one of the safest cities in America, not in spite of but because we are a city of immigrants. A quarter of those who live here were born in another country, their very presence makes us safer, more successful, stronger, more secure.
“You make communities, you make the State of Texas, you make, by extension, the country a safer place by treating people with dignity and respect. Not militarizing communities, not adding even more to the $20 billion a year that we are spending on border security. You make sure our laws match our values, our interest, our experience here. So, I think El Paso helped set the example for the country on Monday night.”
After Congress failed to appropriate the amount of money he wanted to see appropriated for border security, President Tump declared a national emergency. With this declaration, Trump believes he can move funds from other accounts to build more border barriers. In response, O’Rourke said he did not think Trump was being rational.
“It is hard to make a rational case for an emergency declaration or troops on the border, or any amount of additional border walls or border fencing or steel slats, even if it is not five and a half billion, even if it is only one and a quarter,” O’Rourke said.
“The border has never been as safe and secure as it is now. And, as many people now know, El Paso has been a safe city, one of the safest in the U.S. for the last 20 years. Prior to having a wall, post having a wall. In fact, a little less safe after we had a wall. And we are not an outlier. McAllen, is safe, San Diego is safe, the border cities are safer than the average city in the interior. There is no rational reason to do this.”
El Paso experience
O’Rourke said FBI crime data shows that El Paso has been the first, second or third safest city in the United States for the past 20 years.
“We built a wall in 2008 after the 2006 Secure Fence Act, voted for by Republicans and Democrats alike. And, El Paso’s safety actually drops. The crime rate actually increases after that. I do not know if if is correlated but what I can tell you is the wall did not make us any safer.”
O’Rourke said it is important to remember that El Paso has always had some level of migration from Mexico and to an extent Central America.
“Most of it from people wanting to work jobs here in this country that no one else would do. Legally, under the Bracero program. Our immigration laws were amended after 1965 to end that program and essentially the same number of people still keep coming to work only now they are undocumented,” O’Rourke said.
“Those who are coming are turning themselves in, they are not coming for work they are coming to flee the most violent countries on the planet, today, very often with their little kids, or little kids without their parents.
“No wall is going to keep that out nor should it. We have asylum laws we must follow and international obligations to which we must adhere. And, a sense of moral purpose that I think we should live up to. The wall is not going to solve any of that.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Beto O’Rourke in conversation with MSNBC presenter Chris Hayes near the border in El Paso, Texas.