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Democrats supported the wall in 2006 when it was a fence

FILE - In this March 13, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he reviews border wall prototypes in San Diego. Trump is floating the idea of using the military’s budget to pay for his long-promised border wall with Mexico. Trump raised the idea to House Speaker Paul Ryan at a meeting last week, according to a person familiar with the discussion who spoke on condition of anonymity. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Top congressional Democrats and Republicans met at the White House Wednesday afternoon where President Donald Trump made another request for $5 billion to fund the wall he promised to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Before sitting down with lawmakers, Trump told reporters that Democrats are playing politics with the issue of border security "because they have an eye on 2020." He warned that the government would remain in a partial shutdown for "as long as it takes" to reach an agreement on the wall.

After the 90-minute meeting and a briefing from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Democrats are still unwilling to provide any amount of money to pay for Trump's border wall. Both sides appeared no closer to an agreement and no closer to ending the partial government shutdown that will be heading into its 13th day when lawmakers officially return to Washington Thursday and start the new session of Congress.

House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi said she would call a vote this week on a proposal to reopen the government, approve six noncontroversial appropriations bills and temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8. However, without funding a border wall, it is unlikely the stopgap measure will get President Trump's signature or a vote in the Senate.

Democrats haven't always had such a hard position on the border wall. Over the past decade, Democrats have supported billions of dollars in funding for physical barriers. In 2006, the Secure Fence Act passed with bipartisan support requiring the construction of physical barriers along 700 miles of the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Sixty-four Democrats voted the measure in the House and 26 in the Senate.

The current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer voted for it, so did Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama praised the bill in a floor speech saying it would "certainly do some good" and "help stem some of the tide of illegal immigration in this country."

In 2013, all Senate Democrats and most House Democrats backed comprehensive immigration reform legislation, the so-called Gang of Eight bill. It included $46 billion for border security and around $8 billion to repair or reinforce barriers along the 700 miles of the border as required under the Secure Fence Act.

Schumer also briefly offered to deliver the Democratic votes to fully fund the border wall at $25 billion in exchange for a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. The January 2018 deal quickly fell apart amid a government shutdown, criticism from Democratic and Republican bases and Trump's insistence on adding legal immigration reform onto the deal.

In the end, Congress agreed to give the Department of Homeland Security $1.3 billion last year to repair and replace existing barriers. DHS put the money to use and constructed 84 miles of border wall, boasting, "We are building the first new border wall in a decade."

The most obvious change since a bipartisan majority voted to fund physical barriers in 2006 and 2013 and even 2018, is the politics of border security.

Ahead of 2020, President Trump is under pressure from his conservative base to make good on his signature campaign promise to build the wall. And Democrats are now in a position to deny him that victory.

"The Democrats don't oppose border infrastructure, they oppose President Trump," explained RJ Hauman, government affairs director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "It wasn't long ago that Democrats, including Schumer, supported border barriers. Now they are letting their hatred of President Trump cloud their ability to judge the merits of the proposal."

George W. Bush was also not nearly as polarizing a figure as President Trump, particularly on issues of immigration, said David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute. "No one thought in 2006 that they were voting for a wall because the President of the United States thought that Mexican immigrants were 'rapists,'" he said. "That remark at the start of his [Trump's] campaign really colors everything about this debate. Even if you agree it should be done for other reasons, it makes it really hard to get on board with this president."

By the time Trump took office in 2017, the U.S. had built fencing along approximately 653 miles of the border. The effect, according to Customs and Border Protection, is a sharp decline in the number of individuals illegally crossing the border at points where fences were built. In Yuma, Arizona Customs and Border Patrol constructed triple-layered border fencing, combining physical barriers with surveillance, access roads and other technology. Apprehensions have dropped 90 percent since their height in the early 2000s, according to DHS.

In testimony to the House Judiciary Committee last month, DHS Sec. Nielsen asserted, "Let me be clear, walls work." She continued that DHS needs "much more" from lawmakers but absent congressional appropriations, DHS "will use every available option to ensure we can keep building."

Despite some notable success in diverting illegal traffic, there are a number of arguments that adding more border wall to the existing barriers would produce diminishing returns. Most of the highly trafficked areas of the border were fortified, producing positive results. Much of the remaining territory has natural barriers, like deserts, mountains and rivers.

Critics argue it would be costly, complicated and redundant to build in those areas. According to a Government Accountability Office study, by 2009, Congress had appropriated about $2.4 billion for the construction of vehicle and pedestrian fencing with an average cost of the fencing cost on average $3.5 million per mile, depending on the terrain, fencing and cost to acquire land.

According to a recent DHS press release, the $5 billion in 2019 funding would be spent on 215 miles of high priority border wall. At the cost of roughly $23 million per mile, Trump's border wall is more than six times as costly as the fencing.

Moreover, the current immigration crisis is driven by individuals who are turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents to claim asylum, rather than evading authorities. And according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, the majority of drugs entering the United States come through a legal port of entry.

In addition to the cost and the politics, Democrats are also concerned that President Trump will ultimately back out of any deal that funds border security in exchange for Democratic priorities, like a legal status for Dreamers or comprehensive immigration reform.

That's what happened in 2006, Bier explained. "They don't want to be played yet again."

In exchange for the votes on border security and border infrastructure under the Secure Fence Act, President George W. Bush promised Democrats a shot at comprehensive immigration reform. In the years that followed, more than 650 of the 700 miles of fencing was built. Democrats also voted to double the number of Customs and Border Protection agents in a short time, but comprehensive immigration reform never happened.

Obama's 2006 Senate speech praising the Secure Fence Act, also warned that it was far short of a complete immigration solution. "It is great for sound bites and ad campaigns," then-Sen. Obama said. "But if we think that putting up a few more miles of fence is by any means the whole answer to our immigration problems, then I believe we are seriously kidding ourselves."

It took another seven years before comprehensive immigration reform came up again under the Obama administration in 2013 and after passing the Senate was rejected by the House of Representatives. Even limited immigration reforms have failed. One of the reasons Schumer backed out of the 2018 deal to fully fund the wall in exchange for legal status for Dreamers was because Trump "moved the goalposts." Once the two appeared to reach a deal, Trump added demands for ending chain migration and the Visa lottery system.

"At this point, everyone on the comprehensive immigration reform side of the conversation feels like, 'we've been had,'" Bier said. "They don't want to be played yet again and spend even more money when they're not getting any real fixes to the immigration system."

There have also been complaints that Trump is continually moving the goal posts and continually reimagining the plans for his "big, beautiful wall." The president has gone back and forth about his preferred barrier.

In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security issued a call for border wall prototypes specifying any new border wall must be at least 30 feet high and have anti-breaching, anti-climbing and anti-tunneling capabilities.

In March, Trump visited eight steel and concrete prototypes, erected in San Diego and expressed his preference for a "see through" wall. Late last month, Trump said his border wall would be built from "artistically designed steel slats." He has also referred to concrete barriers, fences and other concepts.

Former White House chief of staff John Kelly bluntly told the Los Angeles Times Sunday, "To be honest, it’s not a wall." Kelly officially left the White House before the New Year and previously served as Trump's first Secretary of Homeland Security. He explained that "we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it."

President Trump disagreed and attempted to correct the record on Twitter. "An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media," Trump wrote. "Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides). Makes sense to me!"

After a meeting with President Trump at the White House Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., noted, "The wall has become a metaphor for border security." At an estimated $25 billion, it seems like an expensive metaphor.

The fight over the partial government shutdown is almost certain to be President Trump's last chance to get the funding he wants for his wall.

Before losing their majority, House Republicans passed a bill with $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall, more generous than what the White House initially requested. The Senate rejected that bill and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not hold another vote on funding the government until an agreement was reached that would have the support of the president, the House of Representatives and enough Democrats in the Senate to pass.

Trump is now reportedly holding out for $5.7 billion.

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