Advocates push back against border wall funds, citing other U.S. needs

The gathering of border wall opponents came one day after lawmakers met with President Donald Trump, who is said to be asking for up to $5 billion for a wall. (Photo by Alexis Egeland/Cronkite News)

Alejandra Coreas, 22, addresses advocates before they head out to make the rounds of Capitol Hill offices, where they will push for border wall funds to be shifted to other uses. (Photo by Alexis Egeland/Cronkite News)

Tucson resident Vicki Gaubeca came to Washington with a message for lawmakers, that billions for border security could be better spent supporting victims of California wildfires. (Photo by Alexis Egeland/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Advocates fanned out across Capitol Hill Friday to tell members of Congress, current and incoming, that billions of dollars targeted for a border wall could be better used for needs inside the country.

Their lobbying came one day after Republican lawmakers met with President Donald Trump to discuss funding the border wall, with Senate and House budget plans calling for $1.6 billion or $5 billion, respectively.

To Tucson resident Vicki Gaubeca, that sort of money could go a long way toward addressing “ever more present needs in this country,” like recovery for the California wildfires.

“That would be enough to replace those 11,000 and more structures that are being destroyed by those wildfires,” Gaubeca said. “I think that would be a better use of taxpayers’ money, and my hope is that Congress recognizes the same thing.”

Gaubeca, the director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, was in Washington to lobby with a handful of other activists who want to defund not only the wall but Customs and Border Protection and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We’re here to say that it is absolutely not a good use of taxpayers’ money,” she said.

But Trump, who campaigned on a promise of a “big, beautiful wall,” said the project is still needed.

At a post-election event at the White House last week, Trump said he speaks with Democrats all the time who agree that a wall is necessary. He said it is needed to protect the southern border, and it is needed sooner rather than later.

“We need the money to build the wall,” Trump said. “The whole wall, not pieces of it all over.”

He said he expects lawmakers to come together on the issue, but wall funding is expected to be a sticking point in budget negotiations in the lame-duck Congress, which is only scheduled to be in Washington for three more weeks.

If either side digs in its heels and refuses to pass the budget over wall funding, it could lead to a partial government shutdown. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that he does not think a shutdown will happen.

Gaubeca said she hoped to meet with Democratic Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema, and Sinema’s opponent in the Arizona Senate race, Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, while in Washington.

Even though McSally aligned herself closely with Trump during the Senate campaign, Gaubeca is hopeful the Tucson Republican will move away from her “Trumpism” now that the campaign is over and can be persuaded to vote against the wall in the lame-duck session.

Avigail Oren, a member of progressive Jewish organization Bend the Arc Pittsburgh, sees a “very strong link between the ideologies that led to the attacks on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the white nationalism feeding the deportation machine.”

“I’m very committed to seeing immigration justice done,” Oren said. “But I also think that anti-Semitism is a part of this struggle that we’re all a part of, to get justice for minorities in the United States.”

Alejandra Coreas, 22, said she realized that as a DACA recipient she no longer had the luxury to sit back and watch immigration policies play out.

“With our legality constantly being under threat and under debate, I decided to actually fight for my own dignity instead of waiting for other people to do it,” said Coreas, a member of United We Dream.

Coreas said she has seen people who are afraid to call the police to report crimes, because the current climate has led them to fear the people who are supposed to protect them.

“It’s getting to a point where people are not being able to live their normal lives anymore,” she said. “That is why it’s so important for us to be here and continue to push back, especially now.”

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