The partial shutdown of the United States government that entered Day 19 Wednesday is the result of a standoff between President Donald Trump, who wants $5.6 billion to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, and House Democrats who have said they wouldn’t give him a dollar for his “immoral” project.
The wall was President Trump’s signature campaign promise, and he has pressed relentlessly for it. Progress, however, has been slow — even as his claims of a massive crisis at the border have appeared to be contradicted by continuously falling numbers of illegal entries into the United States for at least the last two decades. Figures compiled by The New York Times show not a single mile of an extended wall has been built under Trump so far.
1,954 miles: Length of the US-Mexico border
1,000 miles: Length of the concrete or steel wall that Trump wants. He has commissioned 8 prototypes. No walls along these prototypes have been built or funded by Congress
654 miles: Barriers of various types that existed before Trump became President
0 miles: Length of new barriers that have been built under Trump. Some existing barriers have been replaced, though
124 miles: Length of new and replacement barriers approved by Congress, using existing designs
40 miles: Of the approved barriers, this is the length of replacement barriers that have been built or started. Ground is expected to be broken on an additional 61 miles in 2019
14 miles: Length of new barriers work on which will begin in February — the first extension of current barriers
Tip for Reading List | A History Of Walls
If it lasts until the end of this week, the current partial shutdown of the United States government would be its longest ever. About 800,000 government employees are either furloughed or working without pay, in addition to hundreds of thousands of contractors. The crisis is because of the “big, beautiful wall” that President Donald Trump wants along the border with Mexico to keep “criminals, human traffickers and drugs” from “pouring into” the US.
The idea of building walls for security and protection is, of course, thousands of years old, as city walls in ancient civilisations across the world attest. Historian David Frye’s Walls: A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick, a new book that seems especially topical now, begins with a timeline of walls built by man from c. 2000 BC to 1989, the year the Berlin wall fell. He notes also that “border walls have experienced a conspicuous revival in the twenty-first century”, and that “worldwide, some seventy barriers of various sorts currently stand guard over borders”. Ironically enough, “the mere concept of walls now divides people more thoroughly than any structure of brick and stone”. Because, “for every person who sees a wall as an act of oppression, there is always another urging the construction of newer, higher and longer barriers”, with the two sides “hardly speaking to each other”.
Despite the appearance, his book, Frye says, “isn’t intended to be a history of walls” — rather, “it is, as the subtitle indicates, a history of civilisation (that explores) the unrecognised and often surprising influence of walls (on it)”. The chapters organised under the four sections of the book — ‘Builders and Barbarians’, The Great Age of Walls’, ‘The World in Transition’, and ‘A Clash of Symbols’ tell this story.