In 2006, Democrats were saying ‘build that fence!’

An agent of the border patrol, observed near the Mexico-US border fence, on the Mexican side, separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico, this week. –Christian Torres / AP

WASHINGTON — As a senator, Barack Obama once offered measured praise for the border control legislation that would become the basis for one of Donald Trump’s first acts as president.

“The bill before us will certainly do some good,” Obama said on the Senate floor in October 2006. He praised the legislation, saying it would provide “better fences and better security along our borders” and would “help stem some of the tide of illegal immigration in this country.”

Obama was talking about the Secure Fence Act of 2006, legislation authorizing a barrier along the southern border passed into law with the support of 26 Democratic senators including party leaders like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Chuck Schumer.

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Now it’s become the legal mechanism for Trump to order construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico, attempting tomake good on a key promise from the campaign trail. Trump specifically cited the law in the first sentence of Wednesday’s executive order authorizing the wall.

The episode shows how concerns over border security occupied Washington well before Trump made it the centerpiece of his candidacy, and that Democrats were more than willing to offer big sums of taxpayer money to keep Mexicans and other Latino immigrants out of the United States. The border fence called for in the 2006 law was far less ambitious than the wall Trump envisions, and,as he is apt to do, he has made the issue bigger, more explosive, and far more disruptive to US diplomacy.

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