I don't want arguments for or against the wall/barrier on the United States' southern border. I would like to understand what Nancy Pelosi means when she or any other member of the Democratic party claim that a wall is immoral.


3 Answers 3


Here are some examples of statements by Democratic politicians and my best guess at interpretation:

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called President Trump's planned border wall 'immoral'

“A wall, in my view, is an immorality. It’s the least effective way to protect the border and the most costly. I can’t think of any reason why anyone would think it’s a good idea — unless this has something to do with something else.” Source

What Speaker Pelosi seems to be saying here is that the border wall is immoral because it's costly but it's not even effective, and would therefore be immoral waste of taxpayer money.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated that all Latinos wherever they're from have the right to enter the United States, so in her view, not letting them enter could be perceived as a violation of their rights, which could be considered immoral.

Rep. Adam Smith, the new chair of the House Armed Services Committee, who, echoing many other Democrats, claims that Trump’s campaign for a border wall is rooted in “xenophobia and racism.” Source

So in Rep. Adam Smith's view, if the border wall is rooted in 'xenophobia and racism', then the border wall is immoral because xenophobia and racism are immoral.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, stated

“I hope folks have realized walls are deadly,” she said. “When people are so desperate they will flee their country to go to another, a wall doesn’t stop them. It just pushes them out to more treacherous, dangerous, deadly crossings where migrants die in the desert or drown in rivers.” Source

So, in Rep. Escobar's view, the wall would be immoral because it would make migrants' journeys more dangerous and expose them to potentially greater harm that if there weren't a wall.

  • 4
    @Shadur Talking about asylum seems to be a reference to the caravan. One of the mitigating problems is that the caravan crossed several other countries trying to get to the U.S. In other words, they didn't request asylum at the earliest opportunity. Does that affect the legality of their actions? It at least makes their motives suspect. Also, is the internationally accepted way to enter the country legally and then ask asylum, or does the internationally accepted way allow for illegal entry? What happens to those entering illegally who are denied asylum?
    – jpmc26
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 23:35
  • 11
    Pelosi’s quote is a great find, but I don’t think you quite unpacked her meaning. The key here is “unless this has something to do with something else.” This vague “something” strongly insinuates something immoral—my guess is racism towards South Americans and that piece of Trump’s rhetoric. With this in mind, Pelosi is saying here that the wall is “an immorality” not just because it is a waste of taxpayer money, but because it is a product of “something else” — something sinister, something immoral. This falls in line with Rep. Adam Smith’s comment.
    – Daniel
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 6:09
  • 9
    Regarding the AOC quote: Instead of relying on some rather shady "news" sites to filter what she actually said through various ideological lenses I added the primary source: A video where she actually makes that statement.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 10:21
  • 3
    I'm on board with Daniel for this one. She leaves unspoken what she feels the true "immorality" is, and that's her implication that the actual reason for the wall is based on xenophobic fear-mongering vs actual needs, and her belief that wasting national resources for that kind manipulation is immoral. Commented Feb 18, 2019 at 19:35
  • 3
    Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated that all Latinos wherever they're from have the right to enter the United States She doesn’t say that in the linked clip, and as far as I can tell from Googling, she’s never said that. Commented Feb 19, 2019 at 9:16

In terms of cultural references, it is worth mentioning a powerful image dating from the Cold War: the fence that separated Europe in two (and surrounded West Berlin) during the Cold War was called "the Wall of Shame". Its numerous photographs were the symbol of the totalitarian oppression of the Soviet Union. It was also transcontinental, since it went uninterruptedly "from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic", in the words of Winston Churchill (5 March 1946).

It had a strong impact on European mentalities, but on the US culture as well. US President Ronald Reagan famously stated "Mr. Gorbachev, if you love peace... open this gate! (...) Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" (June 7, 1987).

Philosophically, there is a duality in walls, especially when they go from coast to coast: even though they are purportedly built to protect the people on this site from contamination (the German Inner Wall was justified as an "anti-fascist protective rampart"), they are often meant the other way: "to keep the other people in"; in other words, to keep people as prisoners.

Furthemore, let us not forget that in US cities, actual walls or bureaucratic walls were built to segregate black populations from white ones, in the fear of an "invasion" of "people bringing drugs and crime" (Chicago's housing system left a strong memory of this; see also N.Y. Times's book review, 20 June 2017). That explains why the N.Y Times used the term "wall of shame" (24 January 2019) about issues of racial discrimination:

The wall of Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency has always operated both as a discrete proposal — an actual structure to be built under his leadership — and as a symbol with a clear meaning. Whether praised by its supporters or condemned by its opponents, the wall is a stand-in for the larger promise of broad racial (and religious) exclusion and domination. It’s no surprise, then, that some Americans use “Build the wall” as a racist chant, much like the way they invoke the president’s name. And it’s also why, despite the pain and distress of the extended government shutdown, Democrats are right to resist any deal with the White House that includes funding for its construction.

The term wall of shame has two connotations here: the first as a metaphor for immorality, the second as a reference to the Berlin Wall.

Hence, in the US, the question of the Mexican Border Wall does evoke two images, both of which are profoundly immoral in modern US culture: the Iron Curtain across Europe as tool of political oppression, and racial segregation in the planning of US cities (and these two images were already connected in the first place).

To moderator

This post uses abundant references. Please be more specific/helpful, to avoid your moderation being considered as overzealous.

  • 3
    Many highway projects are effectively walls that divide neighborhoods.
    – emory
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 15:51
  • 2
    @emory - People didn't vote for a president so that they could build a highway, they voted to "protect the people on this site from contamination" (aka: racism) by means of a wall. Isolationism is immoral when you pick and choose, and don't hate everyone equally.
    – Mazura
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 16:00
  • 1
    There's a big philosophical difference between keeping people out and keeping people in. Nobody claims that the US wall will serve to limit the movement of US citizens. Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 3:41
  • 4
    Please note that the question explicitly asks for claims by members of the Democrats, not for personal opinions.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 10:04
  • 2
    On StackExchange, relevance of content is measured by points. It is not up to you (if you are a moderator), to express opinions or censor upon what is relevant or not to a question. A moderator's job is to ensure that the answer fits formal requirements, using objective criteria.
    – fralau
    Commented Feb 18, 2019 at 19:34

The 2016 Democratic platform says

The world is experiencing a major refugee crisis with more than 60 million people displaced as a result of conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. We support President Obama’s call for an international summit to address this crisis so that every country assumes its responsibility to meet this humanitarian challenge. While Donald Trump proposes banning Muslim refugees, we will look for ways to help innocent people who are fleeing persecution while ensuring rigorous screening and vetting.

They also write

Democrats know the importance of our country’s history as a nation of immigrants. We honor our fundamental values by treating all people who come to the United States with dignity and respect [...]

Democrats with some Republicans passed the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 in reaction to the end of WWII and the start of the Cold War. They did agree with most civilized nations that people who faced genuine political persecution deserved political asylum, and that there should be individual hearings in a legal process.

Asylum should happen in the first safe harbor after leaving the place of persecution. There is no right for the refugee to pick their destination. The problem with that is that most wealthy nations, those most able to cope with refugees, have declared their immediate neighbours as "safe" and tried to prevent asylum claims by other ways -- migrants have to get in illegally to get a hearing if they will get legal refugee status.

So you can see Democrats supporting some restrictions on refugees, while generally being more welcoming than Republicans.

  • 3
    Note: Donald Trump, and perhaps some other ideologically-aligned conservatives, have claimed that Mexico is a country of rapists and criminals. This is inflammatory. However, by his own words, Trump is essentially saying that Mexico is NOT a safe harbor for refugees to settle. This is a great reason why Trump and his associates can't make the argument that Mexico could have been a first safe harbor for refugees. He can't make that argument without first walking back all of his previous attacks on the safety and crime factor of Mexico.
    – John
    Commented Feb 18, 2019 at 19:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .