Marcos Bretón

If you want a wall, make an argument, but leave a cop killing out of it

The “debate” over President Donald Trump’s morally bankrupt campaign to build a “wall” on America’s southern border isn’t a debate at all.

In a true debate, opponents verbally spar over established facts. In his demand for a wall, Trump has created his version of reality based on unwarranted fear, has relied on conclusions not supported by his own government’s data, and again has invoked the threats of rampant crime, citing a recent fatal shooting of a police officer in California’s Central Valley.

But Trump and all those who swallow his lies, distortions and half truths about the alleged need $5.7 billion for a border wall are not motivated by facts. They hate facts. They hate nuance. They want to be mad. They want it so badly that they are willing to go along with a government shutdown that Trump created as a ransom to get his wall funding when he said countless times along his slime trail to the presidency that Mexico would pay for it.

His base loathes and fear the “browning” of America so much that it goes along despite his lies. Trump shrewdly made this calculation in 2016 and rode its wave of hate and ignorance all the way to the White House.

Trump has openly said that when he felt himself losing the crowds at his presidential campaign rallies, he would start yelling about the wall and they would respond with fervor and zealotry. Not every Trumper responded this way. Some try to hide these feelings in plain sight, only to reveal themselves on social media by the intolerant memes they share or by choosing the Trump gospel over established facts.

Opinion

For Trump and his extreme followers, the “wall” became a weapon to be deployed against an America they couldn’t stand, one filled with Hillary Clinton supporters, Mexicans, Muslims, feminists, Black Lives Matter, Nancy Pelosi, Jews, gays, transgender people, the disabled, liberals, artists, intellectuals, movie stars and outspoken black celebrities.

They all repeat the mantra of the “wall” as a symbol of law and order when such an assertion is pure bunk. They argue that those who oppose the wall are for “open borders” and that is the type of outright lie best described by word that’s best left unsaid here.

Here is a spoiler alert: America’s borders are not open. America’s borders are militarized right now. They are fortified. Border crossings from Mexico into the U.S. are at the lowest levels in nearly a half century. And yes, there are Trumpers who would call that last statement “fake news” and they would refuse to acknowledge that the statistics behind that statement were compiled by Trump’s own U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Factcheck.org reported “Fiscal year figures, show total apprehensions for fiscal 2017 (that) were the lowest since 1971..”

And it doesn’t stop there. The libertarian Cato Institute has published social-science data on how all immigrants – including the undocumented – commit fewer crimes than native born Americans.

But in his televised address on Tuesday, Trump cited a handful of heinous crimes committed by undocumented people and tried to inflate that handful into a crisis of danger that can only be stemmed by his border wall. Trump specifically cited the killing of a Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh as evidence of “illegal aliens” running amok.

“America’s heart broke the day after Christmas, when a young police officer in California was savagely murdered in cold blood by an illegal alien ...,” Trump said. “The life of an American hero was stolen by someone who had no right to be in our country.”

Singh’s heartbreaking story of Fijian immigrant who dedicated his life to law enforcement – and had a young family when he was gunned down in the line of duty just after Christmas – was not only politicized by Trump. It was politicized by Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, who used his last days in office before retiring this week to blame California laws for Singh’s death. Specifically, Christianson alleged that legislation wrongly dubbed “sanctuary state” laws make it easier for dangerous “Illegals” to menace American citizens.

Authorities say that Paulo Virgen Mendoza (who also went by Gustavo Perez Arriaga), the suspect in Singh’s killing, is undocumented and from Mexico. I was on vacation when Singh’s killing hit the news and in the two weeks I was away from the office, my email was littered with missives about “sanctuary” laws. One gentleman suggested that if I had any guts, I would tell Singh’s family to their faces how I supported “illegals.”

Mind you, if Singh’s alleged killer had been an American born white man, nobody would have written to me.

But this horrible crime fit the narrative of Trump and his followers.....except for those pesky facts. It turns out that Paulo Virgen Mendoza had been arrested twice before on DUI charges. He was arrested before California’s “sanctuary” laws were enacted and again, these laws are not about sanctuary for anyone. That’s a label that anti-immigrant ideologues gave them.

In truth, the “California Values Act” is about making sure that state and local law enforcement officers do not become de-facto immigration agents. The law, authored by former state Senate leader Kevin De Leon, basically says: It’s the job of federal immigration authorities to enforce the law and we want them to do it without deputizing state and local cops.

And you know what? A series of exceptions allow cooperation between the locals and the feds when dealing with dangerous criminals.

In the truth, the unanswered question in the Singh case is why wasn’t his alleged killer already incarcerated? Why wasn’t he previously deported? Was he deported? Why was he free the night he allegedly killed Singh because there is nothing in California law that prevented his arrest.

“There were two active warrants for (Paulo Virgen Mendoza’s) arrest,” De Leon said. “He should have been in custody before this tragedy occurred. This is a tragedy that no one should exploit.”

But these are facts that are inconvenient, Trump and Trumpers use the wall as a political tactic to intimidate their opponents by brandishing a handful of horrible deaths to promote their cause.

All Trump has left is his base and he is playing to them while 800,000 federal employees remain unemployed. Meanwhile, the idea of a wall is not politically popular.

There are far more efficient ways to fortify the border that are more effective and less costly.

“We can build the infrastructure and roads at our ports of entry,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday night. “We can install new technology to scan cars and trucks for drugs coming into our nation; we can hire the personnel we need to facilitate trade and immigration at the border; and we can fund more innovation to detect unauthorized crossings.”

If Trump were a normal politician, he would make a deal with Pelosi that would further fortify our border with Mexico while putting federal employees back to work. But he’s not normal. He built his presidency on racial and ethnic animus and outright racism. He appealed to divisions and anger, disregarding facts.

He’s mobilized an army of aggrieved people by selling them on the lie of the “wall.” Those who bought the lie are less interested in governing and more interested in vendettas against people who frighten and anger them.

How do you negotiate against anger fueled lies? You don’t. You stand back and you let Trump and his army of grievances implode. The lie behind the president must be exposed and discredited so that a government based on divisions and disruptions does not survive a people yearning to be free of it.

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Marcos Breton writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.
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