Trump’s executive order to extend and complete the existing US/Mexico border wall is part of a longer history of border militarization, but it’s galvanizing people to action. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) is here to support people who are considering refusing or choose to refuse to pay taxes for the border wall.
The Executive Order
Trump called for completely walling off the US/Mexico border throughout his campaign, and he reiterated that call after the election. In early January, it was reported that Trump was pushing for federal budget appropriations for a border wall under the 2006 Secure Fence Act (which has already funded the construction of 670 miles of fencing along the border). Trump continued to claim that Mexico would ultimately pay for the wall, even if taxpayers were fronting the money.
On Wednesday, January 25, he signed an executive order to build the border wall. In part, this executive order said:
The Secretary shall immediately take the following steps to obtain complete operational control, as determined by the Secretary, of the southern border:
(a) In accordance with existing law, including the Secure Fence Act and IIRIRA, take all appropriate steps to immediately plan, design, and construct a physical wall along the southern border, using appropriate materials and technology to most effectively achieve complete operational control of the southern border;
(b) Identify and, to the extent permitted by law, allocate all sources of Federal funds for the planning, designing, and constructing of a physical wall along the southern border;
(c) Project and develop long-term funding requirements for the wall, including preparing Congressional budget requests for the current and upcoming fiscal years; and
(d) Produce a comprehensive study of the security of the southern border, to be completed within 180 days of this order, that shall include the current state of southern border security, all geophysical and topographical aspects of the southern border, the availability of Federal and State resources necessary to achieve complete operational control of the southern border, and a strategy to obtain and maintain complete operational control of the southern border.
You might have noticed that this executive order lacks a budget. While Trump estimated the cost of a border wall at $8-12 billion, the MIT Technology Review estimated $27-40 billion. A leaked report from the Department of Homeland Security estimated $21.6 billion for a combination of solid walls and fences, without factoring in geological and geographical challenges that could raise the cost even higher. Maintenance of the wall alone could cost over $750 million per year.
Furthermore, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s budget was over $13 billion for fiscal year 2017. This figure is likely to increase in future years, as Trump’s executive order also instructed the Border Patrol to hire 5,000 more agents. Heightened enforcement at the border also means more money spent on immigration detention centers funded by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE’s budget in 2017 was over $6 billion.
We know that the current border barriers and the presence of the Border Patrol (the border police, part of CBP) force migrants into long journeys in the less-heavily-patrolled open desert. We know that many migrants are exploited by “coyotes” who collect a fee in exchange for a promise of safe passage to the US. Thousands have died in the desert from hunger, thirst, heatstroke, or other causes. This focus on securing the border costs lives, tears apart families, and causes millions of people who immigrated through the southern border, or who know people that immigrated, to live in fear of la migra (Border Patrol/ICE).
Trump portrays undocumented immigrants as criminals, and insinuates that immigrants take jobs from documented citizens and residents. Neither is true.
A completed border wall will also hurt the Tohono O’odham nation, which is separated by the existing fence from their communities in Mexico. Border Patrol checkpoints, surveillance towers, and armed Border Patrol agents already create a militarized atmosphere on the reservation.
And finally, many people crossing the US/Mexico border are fleeing instability and poverty caused at least in part by the US: trade policies (Mexico and Central America generally), tacit support of government violence or coups (Honduras), or the long-term impacts of US military intervention (Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador).
You might decide that it’s a violation of your conscience to pay taxes to a government that would spend money on a border wall. You might want to pressure the government through tax resistance on this issue. Or perhaps other motivations apply! In any case, you probably have questions about how to carry out your convictions.
The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee has been supporting people who resist taxes for war and militarism since 1982. Among the affiliates and individuals in our network, we have thousands of years of experience resisting taxes, with experience in all the risks, consequences, and rewards of this act of civil disobedience.
How much should I resist for the border wall?
The main methods for resisting border militarization taxes are:
- Refusing to pay some or all of the income taxes you owe (an act of civil disobedience with certain potential consequences)
- Living below a taxable income level (a legal option to refuse to pay taxes)
Many war tax resisters resist an percentage of their taxes equal to the percentage of federal income tax dollars that fund war (including border militarization), which is estimated at 44% in the 2017 fiscal year. Others resist all income taxes. Those who resist everything often do because they can’t pick and choose what programs are funded by any taxes they do pay, so they feel any payment to the government could be used for war.
And still others choose to resist a small or symbolic amount of their taxes. For example, if you wanted to resist a symbolic amount related to the cost of the border wall, you could estimate an amount as follows:
- In 2013 (the most recent year available) there were 138.8 million taxpayers.
- Credible estimates for the cost of the border wall start at $21.6 billion and go as high as $40 billion.
- If each individual taxpayer pays an equal share for the wall (although in reality, taxpayers pay varying amounts and percentages of their income), the cost would be about $156-$289 per person.
- Because the wall would be built over 3 years or more, you might choose to resist a smaller amount each year (say, 1/3 of $156 is $52, or 1/3 of $289 is about $96.33).
Or you could resist another symbolic amount, such as $19.84 (in reference to George Orwell’s novel 1984 portraying a surveillance state). The choice is yours.
If you earn below a taxable income, or want to work toward low-income tax resistance, see our pamphlet on this subject.
How do I resist?
If you’ve already paid federal withholding taxes for 2016 and are owed a refund, the government already has your tax dollars for this year – you won’t be able to resist paying. In that case, you can do your taxes carefully to make sure you get every credit and deduction to which you’re entitled this year, and get the largest refund possible. Then consider changing your W-4 withholding so that you don’t give money to the government up front. When you owe money at tax time next year, it’s your choice to refuse or not. But if the government owes you money, you don’t have a choice.
If you owe money this year, the choice to refuse to pay some or all of it is yours. We recommend reading more about your options to decide what method and amount of resistance will work best for you. Keep in mind that resistance has its risks and benefits, and not all of those are 100% predictable!
And you can redirect your resisted taxes to people who are directly affected by and working to end border militarization. Redirection is a powerful way to show what is possible when taxes are used for justice and peace. In the 2017 tax season, many war tax resisters around the country have committed to collective redirection to immigrant communities and organizing efforts led by people of color.
Whether or not you owe taxes, you can take action.
- If you file a return this year, consider enclosing a letter explaining your objection to paying for the border wall.
- Share that letter with your local newspapers, blogs, friends, family, faith community, and other networks.
- Get connected to a local war tax resistance group, or consult a war tax resistance counselor, for support.
- If you start a new border militarization tax resistance movement in your community, please consider endorsing NWTRCC or becoming an area contact or affiliate!
Border militarization is likely to continue whether or not the wall is built, so let’s organize for the long haul.
Read more about the recent history of US/Mexico border militarization on our blog.