The National Security Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee held a hearing Thursday on President Donald Trump’s signature election pledge of a wall on the southern border.
Five witnesses, four speaking in favor of the wall’s construction and one against, testified before the Subcommittee.
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), framed the issue before the testimony of the witnesses. “A central issue of the President’s 2016 campaign was the promise to build ‘an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful southern border wall,'” he said. DeSantis cited Israel’s successful border wall as a model for our own:
President Trump has identified Israeli border security measures as a potential model for securing the U.S.-Mexico border. The construction of a security fence on the Israel-Sinai Border cut illegal entries from over 16,500 in 2011 to just 43 in 2013 and 12 in 2014 – a 99 percent decrease.
DeSantis also disputed Democrats’ claim that the wall might cost $70 billion, citing the Democrats’ own witness at the hearing, Seth Stodder, an Assistant Secretary in the Obama-DHS, as estimating a cost of only $14 billion in January.
Mark DeSaulnier, a Democratic Member of the National Security Subcommittee, used part of his opening remarks to play a video featuring Republicans like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who never supported President Trump’s plans for a wall, saying they did not think he could get “Mexico to pay for the wall” as he promised on the campaign trail.
Maria Espinoza, national director of the Remembrance Project, a non-profit representing the victims of illegal immigrant crime and their families, testified that:
Americans will continue to be under assault until the wall is built … While it seemed as though the politicians listened and even publicly gave the families their condolences, congressional leadership, the bodies of both houses, Republican and Democrat, have failed to enact the very measures that would have saved American lives. America has spoken. We want the wall built right away … those who falsely state that a great border wall would not work either don’t know their history or are in denial.”
Agnes Gibbony, one of Espinoza’s “angel mothers” whose son was murdered by an illegal alien, took over to add her own horrific experience with lax border enforcement to the congressional record. Gibbony’s herself is an immigrant, fleeing to America with her parents in the wake of Nikita Khrushchev’s bloody Soviet intervention in her native Hungary in 1956. Her memory of immigration is a far cry from the lawless chaos on the southern border today. “We followed all the rules, the law. We followed all the background investigation … We also had to have character witnesses testify that we had good moral standing and my father was required to have a job contract,” she recalled for the Subcommittee.
Gibbony’s son, Ronald da Silva, was shot to death by an illegal in 2002. She told the Subcommittee:
The shooter, the murderer, was an illegal alien with a long criminal record who had been previously deported. Immediately after the shooting, he fled to Mexico. His wife was depositing his welfare check at the credit union so he could live on it. He eventually returned to the United States and was sent to prison. He is due to be released in two years and seven months. I am afraid California will fail to notify ICE of his pending release.
Gibbony’s pain, however, will go on longer than Ronald’s killer’s criminal case. “Ronald was my first and my only son,” Gibbony said, “I live a life sentence of pain and suffering, wondering what would Ronald look like. Would he have grey hair at age 44? Would he be married? What would he be doing?”
Gibbony drew a direct link for the Members of Congress present from poor border enforcement to her and many other American’s victimization, pointing out that the true toll of illegal alien crime remains poorly documented:
I will forever miss all the tomorrow and everything that was taken from me, all because of broken open borders … Hundreds of victims, innocent lives. I wonder how many more there are, because our government does not keep statistics on illegal aliens’ crimes.
Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of the “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement” office or VOICE in an effort to better track excess crime from illegal border crossing.
Gibbony also called out the culture of giving sympathetic treatment to the illegal alien issue while ignoring people like her, victims of that same unchecked border crossing. “You may say it is inhumane to deport illegal aliens who didn’t care about breaking our laws. How inhumane is it that my son Ronald and thousands of innocent victims’ lives were cut short?” she asked.
Steven A. Camarota, Director of Research for the Center for Immigration Studies, a non-profit dedicated to studying the consequences of immigration, laid out the economic case for the wall. He cited dates from a National Academies of Science paper and estimates of illegal alien educational achievement to reach some striking conclusions. “On balance if you take all the taxes that they’re likely to pay over their lifetime, given their education levels, and the services and costs they create, there’s a net drain on tax payers of about $75,000 per illegal border crosser,” he told the subcommittee.
If the illegal aliens’ descendants here in the United States are included, the net burden rises to $94,000 for each illegal border crosser. “The fiscal cost of illegal immigrants is not due to the fact that they don’t want to work. It’s not even due to the fact that many work off the books. Rather, it reflects their educational attainment,” Camarota noted, “The bottom line is, unskilled immigration, which characterizes most illegal immigrants, is costly to tax payers.”
Camarota told the Subcommittee that the wall stands a good chance of being a net fiscal boon to the United States. “If we were to stop just 9-12% of those crossers in the next decade, it would generate $12-15 billion in savings…in effect, the wall could pay for itself even if it only kept out a small fraction of people expected to come,” he testified.
Agent Brandon Judd, President of the National Border Patrol Council, added his own practical experience on the border to the mix. “As an agent who worked in two of the busiest sectors in the history of the border patrol, I can personally tell you how effective border barriers are,” he told the Subcommittee.
Judd was clear that he does not think it is necessary to build 2,000 miles of wall across the entire border, but that the effect in certain strategic locations could be substantial. “Border security is not cheap, but the cost of doing nothing is much higher,” he stressed.
Judd further testified that the wall is not a “silver bullet” and would have to work in conjunction with other border security measures including staffing up the Border Patrol and cracking down on so-called “sanctuary” cities.
Mr. Stodder, the former Obama administration official opposed to the wall, called it a “massive waste of billions of taxpayer dollars.”
Stodder mocked analyses like Camarota’s, noting that net immigration from Mexico has markedly decreased in recent years, telling the Subcommittee, “The fear that America is somehow being overwhelmed by massive numbers of Mexican economic migrants seeking to cross the Rio Grand to take our jobs … [is an] outdated talking point from the 1990s.”
While disapproving of the wall, Stodder agreed that “our immigration system is indeed in crisis.” But he attributed this to “straining from the flow of Central American asylum seekers.” According to him:
The Wall will not help address the most pressing migration challenge we face, which stems from the crisis in Central America, whereby thousands of Guatemalan, El Salvadoran, and Honduran families (and unaccompanied children) have been fleeing violence, extreme poverty, and environmental crises, and coming to our border to seek asylum here, we need more resources specifically devoted to addressing this challenge … suffice it to say, a wall is not going to help.
Asked by Chairman DeSantis whether the drop in border crossings referenced by Stodder was related to the new “posture” of the Trump administration, Agent Judd replied, “I know it is. When we interview these individuals who are currently crossing the border, they know that the laws are going to be enforced.”
“But I must warn you,” Judd added, “We’re in a ‘honeymoon period.’ We have to continue to enforce the laws, because if we don’t, illegal immigration is going to go back up.”