Fact Check: Did Democrats Vote For the Wall?
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 isn’t exactly what it might seem.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said he doesn’t understand Democratic opposition to funding the border wall because top Democrats voted for it just over 10 years ago.
During a April 23 segment on Fox News Sunday, Mulvaney talked down concerns about a government shutdown, but scolded Democrats for obstructing action on Trump’s border wall. Mulvaney pointed to the voting record of top Democrats in 2006 to explain his confusion.
"We want our priorities funded and one of the biggest priorities during the campaign was border security, keeping Americans safe, and part of that was a border wall,” he said.
“We still don’t understand why the Democrats are so wholeheartedly against it. They voted for it in 2006. Then-Sen. Obama voted for it. Sen. Schumer voted for it. Sen. Clinton voted for it. So we don’t understand why Democrats are now playing politics just because Donald Trump is in office.”
Mulvaney is referencing their votes on an act that authorized a fence, but as we’ve noted several times in the past, the 2006 fence was less ambitious than the wall Trump is proposing. His statement that Democrats supported a similar proposal is partially accurate but leaves out important context. It rates Half True.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006
The Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President George W. Bush, authorized about 700 miles of fencing along certain stretches of land between the border of the United States and Mexico. The act also authorized the use of more vehicle barriers, checkpoints and lighting to curb illegal immigration, and the use of advanced technology such as satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles.
At the time the act was being considered, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer were all members of the Senate. (Schumer of New York is now the Senate minority leader.)
Obama, Clinton, Schumer and 23 other Democratic senators voted in favor of the act when it passed in the Senate by a vote of 80 to 19.
Originally, the act called on the Department of Homeland Security to install at least two layers of reinforced fencing along some stretches of the border. That was amended later, however, through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, which got rid of the double-layer requirement.
Currently, 702 miles of fencing separates the United States from Mexico, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
So how does that compare to Trump’s wall?
Trump plans for the wall are vague, but here’s what we know.
He said the wall doesn’t need to run the nearly 2,000 miles of the border, but about 1,000 miles because of natural barriers. He said it could cost between $8 billion and $12 billion, be made of precast concrete, and rise 35 to 40 feet, or 50 feet, or higher.
Experts have repeatedly told PolitiFact that the differences in semantics between a wall and a fence are not too significant because both block people.
Still, there are obvious differences between the fence and Trump’s wall proposal.
A 2016 Associated Press report from the border described “rust-colored thick bars” that form “teeth-like slats” 18 feet high. “There are miles of gaps between segments and openings in the fence itself,” the report said.
Trump criticized the 2006 fence as too modest during the 2016 campaign.
“Now we got lucky because it was such a little wall, it was such a nothing wall, no, they couldn't get their environmental—probably a snake was in the way or a toad,” Trump said. (Actually, the project didn’t face environmental hurdles; we rated that part of the claim Mostly False.)
It’s also worth noting that the political context surrounding the 2006 vote was different, too.
Democrats normally in favor of looser immigration laws saw the Secure Fence Act of 2006 as the lesser of two evils, according to a Boston Globe report that detailed the legislative process. Around that same time, the House passed legislation that would make any undocumented immigrant a felon.
“It didn’t have anywhere near the gravity of harm,” Angela Kelley told the Boston Globe, who in 2006 was the legislative director for the National Immigration Forum. “It was hard to vote against it because who is going to vote against a secure fence? And it was benign compared with what was out there.”
Democrats have described Trump’s wall proposal as overkill and too expensive. Recently, Democrats penned a letter to Senate GOP saying border funding should not be included in the latest budget agreement to keep the government open.