Updated 6 months ago

Trump supporters say terrorist attacks strengthen case for Mexico wall

Donald Trump’s case for building a wall along the Mexican border has been strengthened by recent terrorist attacks in America, France and elsewhere, many of his supporters believe.

Republican convention delegates in Cleveland interviewed by the Guardian mostly backed the plan – a core rallying cry of the Trump campaign expected to be adopted as part of the official GOP platform on Monday – as a means of stopping illegal immigrants, though they were vague on details when asked how long the wall would take to build or what it would look like.

Lei Ann Gleaves, a political researcher from Franklin, Tennessee, said a similar proposal had been floated in the 1990s when she lived in California. “I was against it in the 90s but, now I’m a mother of two kids, I’m for it because I’m worried about illegal children coming here without their shots, then they go to the schools. A principal or teacher in that situation might let them in.”

Gleaves’s own parents were immigrants from the Philippines where, she said, tuberculosis is a problem. “There could be diseases my children would not be able to tolerate. People say Donald Trump is racist; I don’t want my thoughts to be construed as that.”

Asked if Trump could fulfill his promise to make Mexico pay for the wall, the cost of which he pegs at $5-10bn but others put far higher, Gleaves replied: “I have no idea. He hasn’t gotten specific. I know people say you can’t afford it, so we’ll have to wait and see. People would expect him to begin the process of planning in the first term; he would get a lot of complaints if he didn’t. It’s like a promise. He’s beholden to it.”

The 48-year-old denied that building the wall would harm America’s reputation overseas. “I don’t think so because of what’s happened in the last few months with France. France is taking preventative measures … All of these countries are expecting to hunker down and get strict on their immigration policies.”

Chants of “Build the wall!” are a staple of Trump’s campaign rallies.

Several delegates from Texas, which borders Mexico, also expressed support for Trump. Jennifer Beckcom, a political director, said: “I think there’s no such thing as a country without borders, as is going on in Europe right now. We give all this funding and no one is holding up their end of the bargain, especially at the borders. I think we need to call them out on it.”

Asked if Mexico will pay, she replied: “I think it will if we start [to get] tough on it and take a hard line. There’s no reason not to.” 

Beckcom was not concerned that a wall would damage the US’s standing.

“Americans have always sent foreign aid and been the first to be there for people in need and taken immigrants,” she said. “I think that should speak for itself.”

Jack Leinwebber, 54, an air force veteran from Houston, agreed: “We have to control immigration because we have to do something to stem the threat of drugs and Isil. We can’t just bring immigrants in, especially ones who don’t speak the language and don’t have a labour contribution to make. If Donald Trump gets his way, he’ll do it in the first term.”

What would the wall look like? “It would be a hi-tech system; it wouldn’t necessarily be a 50ft wall.”

Making Mexico pay for the wall was realistic for Trump, he insisted. “All he’s got to do is add $2 to a barrel of oil [exported from the US to Mexico], so it’s not a big deal for them to pay for it.”

The plan is well timed, said Leinwebber, who served in the Gulf war, in light of the recent terrorist attacks worldwide. “A year or two ago it would have sent a bad message, but with what’s going on in Europe and Israel and America, it’s not an issue any more. Countries have to secure their own states and I think people understand that.”

But Nelson Spear, from Midland, said he had toured the border during his time as a US assistant attorney and warned that any gaps in the barrier would be exploited. “Where you stop the wall is where they’re going to start coming in. You’re going to keep pushing people east and west.”

Spear opposes Trump’s plan. He explained: “If you build on the US side, I’m concerned about the ability to take private land away from Americans in favour of the government. We can secure the border without a physical barrier, using electronics.”

But he added: “I’m in favour of making Mexico pay for part of the solution. We can make sanctions rougher against Mexico and make them pay for the negative effects they’re having on our economy.”

Spear, now a gas and oil businessman, said the image of the US was safe. “America is great. We have always welcomed legal migrants. Mexico treats its illegal immigrants 10 times worse than we do. We treat them with so much more dignity and respect than any other country.”

Others at the convention argued that the notion of a physical barrier on the border was not so outlandish. Michael Steele, who was the first African American to serve as chair of the Republican National Committee, between 2009 and 2011, said: “Remember, we already have a wall. It’s like a fence. There are barriers that are in existence. Congress several years ago approved further construction of that wall, so it’s not like Donald Trump has proposed something new.”

He continued: “We’re already building the wall. He’s just talking about making it higher. It is already there. It’s not like this is a new idea. Our Congress and President Bush and even the Obama administration have funded and continued to fund the construction and the continued construction along our southern border of a ‘wall’.

“What I think Donald Trump is talking about is as much an economic wall to protect American jobs and a national security wall to make sure we have an idea of who’s actually crossing our borders as opposed to the literal physical wall.”

But the League of United Latin American Citizens condemned the proposal. Roger Rocha, its national president, branded the idea of a wall “ridiculous”, noting that America’s northern border is longer and more porous. He said: “It’s not feasible. It’s a good political ploy, nice for people to hear, but the reality of it is not sustainable. It’s not going to stop whatever he thinks is happening. We just have to have a better border security bill come out: that’s the reality of it.”

Rocha added: “Mr Trump purports himself to be a businessman. Is it smart business? No. Is it politics that he’s using to stir the pot? Yes. But will Mexico pay for it? No. Like you’re going to your neighbour and saying, ‘Hey, I want you to pay for my alarm system in my home because I don’t want you to come in’.”

Even if he was president, Trump might not get his way on the issue. Rocha said: “At the end of the day it’s Congress that controls the funds, so I would hope that Congress would block it, which I’m pretty sure they will, especially when you look at the price tag, especially when you look at our debt. To build the wall and get further into debt? Bad business.”

The Guardian