Commentary
By Jim Wallis 4-26-2017

Donald Trump’s wall is obviously a terrible idea: It’s both impractical and ineffective — and more importantly, it’s immoral. Building Trump’s wall would be building a 2,200-mile-long monument to racism.

Trump’s wall has nothing to do with fixing a broken immigration system. It will waste money and result in cuts to more effective and important programs. It’s not about strengthening national security; it’s about fueling national paranoia. And Christians must ensure that it doesn’t move forward.

There are several indications that the wall won’t do what Trump promises or accomplish its stated goals.

A 2015 government study indicated that the bulk of illegal drugs that enter the U.S. come hidden in trucks through established border checkpoints, so a wall wouldn’t keep drugs out of the country as Trump claims. As for undocumented immigrants, the Pew Research Center tells us that not only has immigration from Mexico been falling for years, long before Donald Trump took office, but at this point more Mexican immigrants are leaving the United States than are coming in each year.

The communities most impacted by border crossings — those closest to the border, understand that the wall makes no practical or moral sense: There isn’t a single member of Congress that represents a district on the U.S.-Mexico border who supports building a wall. Nor is it popular among the American people more broadly: Recent polling puts support for the wall between 35 percent and 39 percent — about the extent of Trump’s supporters. Walling us off from one another seems to be their desire, instead of building better relationships, processes, and systems that work for people on both sides of the border.

More important than the practical reasons it won’t work, Trump’s wall is profoundly wrong from a moral standpoint. From the moment he launched his campaign, Trump deliberately demonized Mexicans specifically, and undocumented immigrants more broadly, seeking to cast the blame for all of his white base’s problems at the feet of brown “illegals.” As Greg Sargent put it Monday in the Washington Post: “… the wall looms very large in the mythology of Trumpism — his supporters see it as a symbol of Trump’s willingness to slam the brakes on the cultural, demographic, and economic forces that are making them feel destabilized. But it also looms large for his detractors, who see it as a symbol of his Fortress America xenophobia.”

Let me put it more simply: Trump’s continuing focus on “the wall” to keep immigrants out was and is racist and is best understood as shorthand for candidate Trump’s appeal to racism for political gain. Donald Trump’s wall was one of his signature campaign ideas based on fear, based on blaming other people for our problems — and yes, built on the racism that was at the core of Trump’s campaign and is now at the core of his presidential administration. The wall was meant to be a racial statement, appealing to racial fear and stoking racial hate among his supporters. It’s time to call this wall what it is and was from the beginning: Trump’s is a wall built on racism. It was always a political appeal to a white base very susceptible and inclined toward racial politics.

In fact, a recent Washington Post study based on comprehensive election data quantified what I said throughout the election season: Racism was the strongest predictor of votes for Trump, more so than economic status or affinity for authoritarianism. Perusing the tweets on any given day that contain the hashtag #BuildTheWall, while incredibly ugly, is also instructive — as a toxic stew of open and unapologetic bigotry is frequently on display.

Racism runs counter to the core message of the gospel. Pope Francis has condemned the idea of the border wall in starkly religious terms: “A person who thinks only about building walls — wherever they may be — and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.”

So let me be direct here. Trump’s wall is unChristian. Trump’s wall is anti-Christian. Christians who supported Trump should be publicly asked if they support his wall. Call them up. Members of Congress who will be asked to approve funding to build Trump’s wall should be told by the Christians in their districts to vote against it. Call them up.

And lest we forget, Trump spent the entire campaign promising that the cost of the wall — which some estimates say will be about $20 billion and some say much more — would be paid by Mexico. Now he’s claiming that the U.S. needs to put in some funding up front and Mexico will reimburse us later — never mind that Mexico’s leaders have repeatedly said they will never pay for a border wall. Now, apparently, we tax payers will be required to pay the $20 billion or more. Think of all the things that we do need which will be lost to pay for a wall that we don’t need.

This week we approach Donald Trump’s 100th day in office, a traditional early benchmark of a new president’s success, and his approval ratings are the lowest for any president this early in a first term in modern history. And we find ourselves faced with the prospect of a government shutdown this weekend if Congress and the White House cannot agree on a so-called “continuing resolution” to keep the government funded. While the latest reports indicate Trump may be backing down on his insistence that the CR include at least a “down payment” on the wall, it remains to be seen what will happen this week.

Rush Limbaugh is already warning that Trump may be “caving” — and that conversation has replaced any rational discussion of how to best deal with immigration or even the best ways to prevent border crossings. Rather, the wall has become a very important symbol of keeping “them” out and erecting a “powerful” and “beautiful” barrier between “us” and “them.” Since Trump himself made the wall such a central symbol of his campaign, it may be hard to him to back away from it, even if it makes no sense and can’t get the legislative support it needs.

But even if Trump’s demands are pushed off for weeks or even until the fall, a majority of the American people reject the wall, and it appears that the majority of Congress agrees with them. What is left is President Trump and the 40 percent of the population who still support him and love the idea of a wall.

Given that he received 81 percent of the votes of white evangelicals, there is a real danger here, especially in the secular media, of Christians being associated with support for this sinful symbol of racism. Will white evangelicals show once again that they are more white than evangelical?

This is an opportunity for people of faith to step up, speak up, and stand up. It is a clear political moment to say that building walls are false solutions to political problems that demand deeper answers. Let us make it abundantly clear to our representatives in Congress that Christians of every denomination and ethnic background do NOT support the wall. In fact, let’s flood the offices of every member of Congress with calls from Christians who oppose the wall with their faith, until our shouts cause Trump’s wall to come tumbling down before it’s ever built.

It’s time for Christians to show the strength of our convictions and put an early end to this poisonous racial project once and for all: Trump’s wall would indeed be a monument to our worst instincts in this nation. Therefore Christians must say that Trump’s wall will not be built on our watch, not this week, not this year, not ever.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, is available now. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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