The Uncomfortable Truth About Who Really Wants The Border Wall

Voices from around the country have drowned out Americans living in border communities.

A growing pile of data suggests that Americans who live on the United States-Mexico border don't want President Donald Trump's proposed border wall. By analyzing county results in the 2016 election, when border wall was a key issue, and numerous polls taken on the proposed border wall since then, it's clear that support for the wall comes predominantly from two places: areas in the country with few immigrants and states and counties that are not close to the border. 

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A closer look at the country results shows that, despite President Trump winning the state of Texas in the 2016 election, there is a concentration of support for former secretary of State Hillary Clinton that's almost exclusive to the border. In fact, per a Politico breakdown of election results, of the 14 border counties in Texas, 10 went blue for Clinton. 399,607 border residents in Texas voted for Clinton in 2016, and just 162,896 voted for Trump.

A common retort to the region's apparent disdain for the wall is that the border is populated by immigrants, particularly immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries, thus the push back against President Trump, who ran as an immigration hardliner. But even that claim is dubious: a study of Texas border families found that citizens living near the border are actually predominantly American-born citizens. 

"Surprisingly, even though Texas' border counties are the gateway to Mexico, fewer than one of every five children living in those counties lives in an immigrant family," the study published by the Center for Public Policy Priorities found. 

Moreover, the support for the wall from Texas as a whole is meager. President Trump won the state handily, but just 43 percent of Texans support his border wall, while 53 percent oppose it, according to a Quinnipiac poll published on April 19.

Similar trends can be seen in New Mexico, Arizona and California, the three other states bordering Mexico.

Border counties in Texas highlighted by the 2016 election results. Brewster County is the largest county in the state. Emma Kapotes

In California, as Politico's data demonstrates, both border counties went blue in the 2016 election, and almost 200,000 more people living in border counties voted for Clinton than Trump in 2016. A recent poll in San Diego, which is just 17 miles north of Mexico, found that 60 percent of San Diego residents don't think a wall would be effective. A majority of the residents are outright opposed to it, as is the Republican mayor. San Diego's city council even passed a resolution to stop the wall from being built.

"I want to make sure we are sending a strong message, not only to my colleagues at the city level but also to San Diegans and beyond, that a border wall is not something we need, and it's something we reject as San Diegans," Councilwoman Georgette Gomez told The San Diego Tribune. "It's a bad deal for everybody, but more specifically it's a bad deal for us."

In New Mexico, two out of the three border counties went red in 2016, but Clinton still picked up 12,000 more votes in total. In Arizona, the border counties split — two for Trump and two for Clinton — but Clinton, again, had 239,960 votes to Trump's 196,381, per Politico. 

Altogether, of the residents living on the border who voted in 2016, more than 1.2 million voted for Clinton while just over 786,000 voted for Trump. 

But it wasn't just the 2016 election, in which Trump's border wall was a primary campaign promise, that showed signs of meager support for Trump's wall along the border. 

Univision, Dallas News and Cronkite News conducted a survey in July of 2016 that asked 1,427 residents on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border a series of immigration questions. 72 percent of respondents on the U.S. side opposed a border wall, while 86 percent of respondents on the Mexico side opposed the wall, Dallas News found. 79 percent of residents on the U.S. side of the border added that they were dependent on their neighbors in Mexico for economic survival, and less than one percent of people responding in U.S. border cities said they viewed the people on the other side of the border as criminals.

"The border is so mischaracterized," Benjamin Andrew Karner, one of the poll respondents, a pastor living in Laredo, told Dallas News. "The place is not as crazy or dangerous as people make it out to be. People think it's the wild, wild West and there are shootouts everywhere… Not true. The crime here seems to be less than other places I have lived."

Karner's intuition is accurate: border towns are some of the safest cities in the country

That might be why similar opposition to a wall can be found outside Texas in the other border states and counties. In Arizona, two-thirds of the residents oppose President Donald Trump's border wall, according to a poll conducted in December of 2017. A February, 2018 poll of New Mexicans found that 53 percent say not to build a wall while just 38 percent support a wall. 

Alamo, Texas / USA - Jan. 27, 2017: A Hispanic woman holds a sign protesting the building of a border wall through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge on the Rio Grande River in far south Texas. Vic Hinterlang / Shutterstock.

Despite all this, President Trump has continued to portray people on the border as desperate for a wall to be built, saying on March 13, "the state of California is begging us to build walls in certain areas. They don't tell you that."

In reality, California is suing to stop Trump's wall, and the people there — just like the people in every border state and almost every border county — are overwhelmingly opposed to the wall. 

So, where is support for the wall coming from? As it turns out, Trump's strongest support comes from states with the smallest immigrant presence and — in some cases — the states furthest from the border. Per CNN, in the 2016 election, President Trump won 26 of the 30 states where foreign-born immigrants represented the smallest percentage of the population. South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky are all states with fewer than one immigrant for every 20 residents. They also happen to be where Trump's most ardent support comes from. 

West Virginia, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota also have fewer than 5,000 undocumented immigrants in their state, the least of any in the country. Trump's wall, of course, is supposed to help stop the influx of undocumented immigrants, drugs and crimes into America.

Conversely, Clinton won 16 of the 20 states with the highest foreign-born population. 

The story this depicts is clear: support for a border wall between the United States and Mexico is coming from states with the fewest immigrants, documented and undocumented, or those states that are the furthest from the actual border. And in the states where the most immigrants live, the states where Americans are nearest to the border, presumably the places that a border wall would affect the most, the opposite is true. 

Cover image Christine Ruddy / Shutterstock.com.

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