Two days before President Trump revealed his first budget plan, a blueprint that included a request for an immediate $1.5 billion and then $2.6 billion more next year to fund the construction of a wall along the Mexican border, the Berkeley city council met in a building 508 miles from the border and more than 2,800 miles from the White House.
Just 3.2 percent of the city had voted for Trump in November — only Detroit had less support for the man who would be elected president. And yet his administration was already plotting how to follow through on his campaign promises to crack down on both legal and illegal immigration and to build a wall that a majority of Americans don’t want.
In Washington, Democratic members of Congress have vowed to oppose funding for the wall, a decision that could lead to a government shutdown this fall. But officials in liberal, ethnically-diverse cities like Berkeley told ThinkProgress they want to do their part to send a message to the administration that their constituents will not stand for the president’s pet project.
On March 14, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin and the city council unanimously approved a resolution denouncing the wall and pulling the city’s investments and business dealings from any company designing, financing, constructing, or otherwise involved in the project.
“Through our tax dollars we can send a message to companies that are thinking about bidding on the border wall project that if you want to do business in the city of Berkeley, you’re not going to be able to compete for public works contracts,” Arreguin said. “This decision will not only discourage companies from bidding on the border wall project but also will make sure that our taxpayer dollars are not funding companies that are constructing this divisive, wasteful boondoggle.”
The one-page resolution, the first of its kind, called out the border wall for “demonizing the people of Mexican and Latin American descent” and recommended that the city “divest from all companies that are involved with or become involved with the construction of a border wall.”
It’s still not clear which companies those will be, or if Berkeley will have to move any of its investments. The federal government is still reviewing proposals for wall-related contracts. But Arreguin said that one of the corporations that has already expressed interest is a public works contractor that does projects for BART, the Bay Area’s public transit system. And according to the federal government’s website, nearly two dozen Bay Area companies expressed interest in helping to build the wall.
“We’re in the process of evaluating where there are conflicts,” Arreguin said. “There may be others, so we’ll have to keep a watchful eye on which contracts are expressing interest and bidding.”
Berkeley was the first U.S. city to approve such a resolution, and in the months since, both nearby Oakland and Tucson, Arizona have followed suit. Oakland’s policy will not require the city to divest its stock but will prevent it from awarding contracts to any companies involved in the wall. Tucson, located just 45 miles from the border, approved a resolution in June calling for the city to divest from any company that profits off the border wall.
The list may continue to grow in the near future. In San Diego, the city council is scheduled to vote on a resolution when it returns from recess in September. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City have all considered making the same move. And legislation has been introduced on the state level in Arizona, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, but so far, none have passed.
“The goal is to get as many cities around the country as possible to jump on board because puny little Tucson will not make these corporations fearful,” Tucson’s Vice Mayor Regina Romero told ThinkProgress.
Arreguin agreed that the effort will only be successful if it becomes a nationwide trend.
“Our hope is that this idea will spread and cities will use the power of the purse string to try to influence this policy,” he said.
‘A long history of leadership’
When Berkeley Councilman Ben Bartlett wrote the resolution that the city council approved unanimously, he drew inspiration from similar campaigns in recent history.
“Berkeley has a long history of leadership in socially-responsible investment,” Arreguin said.
In 1979, Berkeley voters passed a ballot measure directing the city to divest from companies doing business with the South African government during the apartheid era. That move led to a national and international movement that put pressure on the government and was one of the factors in ending the racist regime.
More recently, Berkeley divested from both fossil fuel companies and from Wells Fargo, a bank involved in funding oil pipelines.
The strategy is being used more widely to stop other aspects of the Trump agenda. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer cut the cities ties in June to private prison and immigrant detention companies. City councils in both Seattle, which pulled $3 billion, and Los Angeles voted to divest from Wells Fargo over its support of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
‘We live this issue every day’
As the Trump administration ramps up deportations, targeting immigrants who thought their status was safe under the Obama administration, their needs may seem more critical than the need to financially damage the companies helping construct the border wall. But advocates with immigration-focused groups told ThinkProgress that their members are also excited about the idea of holding corporations responsible.
“While our members have been organizing to resist Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda and the immediate threats to their families, they are also paying close attention to the companies that are complicit in these attacks,” said Deborah Axt, co-executive director of immigrant advocacy group Make the Road NY, which pushed the city to divest from private prison companies.
Romero, Tucson’s vice mayor and a city council member, said her parents immigrated to Arizona from Mexico. She still has family on both sides of the border, so she knows the kinds of threats that an even-more militarized border wall would pose. “We live this issue every day,” she said about her constituents.
“There were a lot of people who said, why would the city of Tucson take a position on this?” she said. “For me, it was because if we don’t, it would be irresponsible… As a city we have the right to choose where we invest our funds, so that is a strategy that we chose.”
“The more cities take a stance on this, the better,” she continued. “The more we start connecting the dots on the strategies of criminalizing immigrants and incarcerating them for a profit, the better. The more we stand against it and bring attention to what’s happening, the better.”
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