By Madison Britt
Since 2016, the idea of a wall at the U.S México border has been endlessly contested across countless platforms. It has been the subject of national debate, caused a government shutdown, and, most recently, lead Donald Trump to declare a national state of emergency to secure funding in hopes that he would be able to fulfill his campaign promise at long last. The wall’s detractors certainly have good reason; according to research published by the ACLU, a border wall could inflict serious cultural, economic, and environmental damage on border communities. Furthermore, the research suggests that the “overall number of people attempting to cross into the United States without authorization remains unaffected by walls and other enforcement measures,” and has been in steady decline for years.
Existing segments of border fencing have forced migrants to take increasingly dangerous routes through the Arizona-Sonora desert. Neither the border fencing nor the harsh desert has deterred migration to the United States. These strict border policies have been linked to an increase in migrant deaths, and an in-depth look at policy outcomes conducted by Princeton University’s Douglas S. Massey indicates that such policies have largely backfired, and in fact created a self perpetuating cycle of migration.
Despite the evidence that a border wall will not be an effective immigration or border control policy, many are still in favor of Trump’s proposed wall at the border and are increasingly frustrated with the government’s unwillingness or inability to fund it. This frustration is manifesting here in Cincinnati, a city where Cincinnati Compass estimates 12.3% of area residents are foreign-born, a number which is growing rapidly. On Tuesday, the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza hosted an “Ohio Town Hall” entitled “We Build the Wall”, lead by conservative pundit Steve Bannon, former chairman of Breitbart news and chief strategist in Trump’s White House. The meeting also featured Brian Kolfage, who started a GoFundMe to pay for a border wall, Kris Kobach, former Kansas Secretary of State, along with other conservative pundits and politicians.
This meeting was, as one might expect, an outpouring of hateful, dangerous, and non-factual rhetoric about Mexicans, immigrants, and sanctuary cities. According from detailed notes and recordings Cincinnati activists obtained at the event, much of the discourse at the event blamed immigrants for human trafficking, increased presence of dangerous drugs, including fentanyl, and criminal and gang activity in the states. The speakers directly recommended a privately funded and controlled border wall to combat the government’s inefficiency, “[literal]... push back against the government, and even “devise a plan to go after and dismantle and destroy Mexican cartels and their networks."
In face of this alarming rhetoric, it is pivotal to consider Cincinnati’s positionality as a Sanctuary City, meaning. This, in its most basic sense, that the city won’t aid ICE in deportations, but the concept of sanctuary means much more than this. According to an analysis of present day Sanctuary by Myrna Orozco and others, the designation of a place or city as “sanctuary” indicates that it is a place of refuge, safety, and respect. Cincinnati’s sanctuary status is admittedly complicated, as a City Beat article by Nick Swartswell explains, but the pushback against the sanctuary movement by Bannon and the like is clear - at the We Build the Wall event frequently labelled the sanctuary movement as unlawful and in defiance of U.S sovereignty.
Despite these complications, Cincinnati has committed on paper to being a Sanctuary City. Activists in the city are attempting day by day to create cities and neighborhoods that are equitable for all Cincinnati residents, and a small crowd gathered outside of the Hilton in downtown Cincinnati to protest the event, and loudly tell its participants and attendees to “Go home”, to unequivocally state “you and your wall are not welcome here,”. As a city, we should follow their example. When we proclaim ourselves to exist as a safe space for immigrants and refugees, we dedicate ourselves to keeping racist and dangerous rhetoric about immigration out of our home. We should protest events like “We Build the Wall” to let those proponents of unethical and ineffectual walls that they are not welcome here, complain to the venues that host them, and show our immigrant neighbors, brothers, and sisters that we stand with them in solidarity.