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Allison Graves
By Allison Graves April 23, 2017

Fact-check: Did top Democrats vote for a border wall in 2006?

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 an 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.

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.

Featured Fact-check

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, who in 2006 was the legislative director for the National Immigration Forum, told the Boston Globe. "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.

Our ruling

Mulvaney said that Obama, Schumer and Clinton voted for a border wall in 2006.

They did vote for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorized building a fence along about 700 miles of the border between the United States and Mexico.

Still, the fence they voted for is not as substantial as the wall Trump is proposing. Trump himself called the 2006 fence a "nothing wall."

Mulvaney’s statement is partially accurate, but ignores important context. We rate it Half True.

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Half True
"They voted for (a border wall) in 2006. Then-Senator Obama voted for it. Sen. Schumer voted for it. Sen. Clinton voted for it."
in a segment on "Fox News Sunday"
Sunday, April 23, 2017

Our Sources

PolitiFact National, "How Trump plans to build, and pay for, a wall along U.S.-Mexico border," July 26, 2016.

PolitiFact National, "Compare the candidates: Clinton vs. Trump on immigration," July 15, 2016.

PolitiFact National, "Obama says the border fence is 'now basically complete'," May 16, 2011.

PolitiFact National, "Trump says they were going to build a wall in '06, but environmental rules got in the way," Aug. 29, 2016

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Is Donald Trump right that Hillary Clinton once ‘wanted a wall’ on the Mexican border?" Aug. 15, 2016

PolitiFact National, "Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton fought for a wall between U.S., Mexico," Oct. 20, 2016

Government Accountability Office, "Southwest border security: Additional actions needed to assess resource deployment and progress," March 1, 2016.

The Guardian, "Unfinished US-Mexico border wall is a costly logistical nightmare in Texas," Jan. 1, 2016

The Boston Globe, "In 2006, Democrats were saying ‘build that fence!’" Jan. 27, 2017., H.R.4437 - Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005

The Washington Post, "Senate Democrats prepare for spring battle over Trump’s border wall," March 13.

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More by Allison Graves

Fact-check: Did top Democrats vote for a border wall in 2006?

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