As President Trump pushes forward with his promise to a build wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, local officials in cities and states around the nation are proposing creative solutions they hope will stymie its progress.
In San Francisco, a measure introduced this week by Supervisor Hillary Ronen would consign companies that help design or construct the wall to a kind of blacklist, forbidding those firms from bidding on city projects. The city councils of Bay Area neighbors Oakland and Berkeley have already approved similar measures, while Democratic legislators have introduced their own versions of financial penalty bills in states including New York, California, Arizona, Illinois and Rhode Island.
"Corporations will see it's bad for business and bad for their image," says Illinois state Rep. Will Guzzardi, who has proposed that certain state pension funds––with assets he estimates to be around $15 billion––divest from any company that aids in erecting a border wall.
Some of these proposals stand virtually no chance of becoming law. In places like Arizona, where Republicans control both chambers of the legislature, the measures have little hope of even getting a committee vote. In the deep blue Bay Area and New York, such bills have a much better chance of taking efffect.
More than 700 firms around the country have expressed interest in helping to construct the border wall, responding to notices posted by the federal government in late February and early March. Trump's budget plan asked for $1.5 billion in immediate funding to start planning and building the wall. But several large companies with the resources to tackle a project meant to span a nearly 2,000-mile long border, such as Raytheon and Boeing, are not to be found on the list of interested vendors. Some have cited practical concerns about the scale of the project, while others have acknowledged the PR problems associated with the controversial structure. Still, the list of potential vendors keeps growing, hitting 723 firms as of Thursday.
It's not clear what effect the local measures will have on the thinking of potential contractors. Multiple firms in the Bay Area that have worked with the city of San Francisco in the past and expressed interested the the border wall project did not respond to requests for comment. When contacted by a local news outlet, one San Francisco contractor expressed dismay about the local blacklist proposals. "Why are taxpayer dollars being spent to hold committee meetings to boycott local companies that employ local workers?" James Flanagan told ABC News. "That's a little on the radical side and basically, our taxpayer dollars are being used against us."
Oakland city councilman Abel Guillén, who proposed the measure that will forbid his city from "entering into new or amended contracts" with businesses that have contracted to provide goods or services in connection with building the border wall, says the bill is not discriminating based on political views but is "putting companies on notice." He believes that building a wall does nothing to solve California's infrastructure or immigration problems and that local funds should not directly or indirectly support the project.
"I can’t direct how the federal government uses their resources," Guillén says, "but I can influence how tax dollars are used in Oakland."
Though such politically motivated financial strategies have been used in the past — by states boycotting companies that have boycotted Israel or pulling money out of investments in South Africa during apartheid — the new proposals could face legal challenges.
Ronen, the San Francisco supervisor, acknowledges that possibility. "With any piece of controversial legislation you always anticipate that there might be legal challenges," she says. "We have to legislate based on what we think is right." So far, two of her colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors. The bill will be assigned to a committee in the next month before getting an initial vote.
Just as Trump has suggested that his administration will starve sanctuary cities of federal funds, many of these lawmakers see promise in the persuasive power of money. "Corporations by their very nature put the bottom line first, that’s their job," says Guzzardi. "And we can pull on the financial levers to change the incentive structure."