No, The Anti-Immigrant Border Wall Isn’t the Infrastructure Project Americans Voted For [OPINION]

By Cristina Jimenez, Nikki Fortunato Bas May 08, 2017

During his bid for the White House, Republican Donald Trump promised voters that he would prioritize the needs of working people and bring back jobs. A key source of that job creation, Trump emphasized at rallies and in speeches, would be the rebuilding of our crumbling roads, water systems and airports.

But he also promised to build a wall along our southern border—a wall that Mexico and members of Congress have made clear they will not pay for.

Now, as president, Trump is more focused on building the wall than building a better country. Indeed, Trump is vowing to spend billions on the Mexico border wall and even millions on prototypes of the wall, for which bidding has closed.

At the same time, he is committed to the expansion of detention centers, even though we already have the largest immigrant detention system in the world. His plans will neither modernize nor repair our towns and cities, but instead increase the criminalization of countless immigrants and people of color.

Building a wall and expanding the deportation machine is not the infrastructure our country’s working families voted for or need. Three major polls have shown that the wall is wildly unpopular among Americans. At least 13 companies have publicly said they will not compete for the wall project, including five of the largest 25 design-build firms in the country. And officials in at least eight states and four cities have proposed legislation to keep local funds from going to companies that support construction of the border wall. Despite this clear objection to dividing families, Trump is using the budget fight happening now to push Congress to devote still more money to detention centers and deportations.

Meanwhile, there is widespread agreement among Democrats and Republicans that our infrastructure is in dire need of investment. In cities and towns across the country, lead contaminates our drinking water, bridges and roads are crumbling and cutting edge transit projects sit stalled and underfunded. Our essential systems have gone underfunded for decades, and Trump is ignoring them. In fact, the president is so focused on hate that his administration has threatened to punish sanctuary cities by denying them money for transportation infrastructure. And while he has fought to include money for separating families in the budget, it is not expected to include money for infrastructure. 

We have failed to invest in the systems we rely on for so long, that our country’s ability to imagine what we can achieve together is stunted. And instead of expanding our national imagination, Trump is actively shrinking it.

We used to know how to think and invest big. From the New Deal to Eisenhower’s highway expansion, the U.S. has a history of publicly funding infrastructure projects that move us forward. A forward-thinking infrastructure plan should unite communities and foster greater mutual understanding, rather than stoke the fear and division at the heart of Trump’s presidential campaign and his criminalization of immigrants.

Immigrants have played an important part in our country’s history and should be allowed to play a bigger, more central role in the building of a better country that belongs to all of us.  

It is time to advance an inclusive vision for building up our cities and towns that is not founded in exclusion and hatred, but instead deepens the ties between our communities. Together, we can defeat Trump’s deportation machine and say shame on the companies that would take part in a project that separates families and stokes fear. We can put into practice a positive vision of infrastructure that will keep us all healthy, safe and connected in a nation where immigrants are welcome to stay.

Cristina Jimenez is executive director of United We Dream. Nikki Fortunato Bas is executive director of Partnership for Working Families.