Oakland may become the first city in the nation to use its purchasing power against President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.
By unanimous vote, Oakland’s Finance and Management committee decided Tuesday to approve a resolution that would require the city to boycott companies that work on the wall. Councilmember Abel Guillén (District 2) proposed the resolution, which was supported by committee members Annie Campbell Washington (District 4), Noel Gallo (District 5) and Dan Kalb (District 1).
The resolution, which still needs approval from the full city council, would order City Administrator Sabrina Landreth “to refrain from entering into new or amended contracts to purchase professional, technical, scientific or financial services, goods, construction labor and materials or other services, or supplies from businesses that enter into contracts to provide such services, goods, materials or supplies to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall.”
At a press conference following the committee meeting, Guillén said federal dollars spent on the wall would be better served investing in American communities. “We know that a wall isn’t going to do anything about the issue of immigration. It will divide people,” Guillén said. “Here in the city of Oakland, we have needs to improve our streets, improve education, provide a better life to our people. A wall doesn’t do anything to help the people of Oakland.”
Five days after assuming office, Trump signed an executive order directing the secretary of Homeland Security to “take all appropriate steps to immediately plan, design, and construct a physical wall along the southern border.” On February 24, the Department of Homeland Security posted a notice soliciting bids from companies hoping to work on the wall. Nearly 100 companies in California have expressed interest in constructing the wall, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Guillén said his office conducted a poll of Oakland residents and found that nine out of ten respondents supported a boycott of companies working on the wall. “Here in the city of Oakland, we’re putting our dollars where our values are,” he said. “We are saying if you want to do business with the city of Oakland, you can’t do business making Trump’s wall.”
Councilmember Campbell Washington, speaking after the meeting, said Trump deceived the American people when he repeatedly promised during the campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall. Post-inauguration statements from the Trump administration indicate that Mexico will not, in fact, pay for the wall’s construction, but it will be paid instead by an import tax that will be passed on to American consumers. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has stated firmly and repeatedly that “Mexico will not pay for any wall.”
“When Trump was running for president, he promised that this wall would not be paid for with taxpayer dollars by the American public, and we see that that’s already been proven false. It was a lie,” Campbell Washington said.
During the committee meeting, Councilmember Gallo said tax dollars that will go towards constructing the wall should be used instead to invest in jobs and development for low-income American cities like Oakland and Detroit.
“I grew up in the city of Oakland where the federal government used to invest in East Oakland,” he said. “I always had a summer job because it was federally sponsored. … That’s something that the feds would provide the city to keep me employed and to develop my skills, to educate me.”
Kalb echoed his fellow councilmembers’ concerns with Trump’s plan. “I’m not thrilled that we have to actually do this,” Kalb said. “I’m very disappointed that the administration and the person in the White House is moving forward with this, and as we just heard, the money that likely is being used to build this wall could be much better spent for our roads, our bridges and our transit systems that are in dire need of capital improvements around the country, including in California.”
Construction on a border wall began more than two decades ago, under then-President Bill Clinton’s Operation Gatekeeper, and was greatly expanded with the passage of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, supported by then-Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Guillén said he’s advocating for a boycott now as part of a wider effort to oppose Trump. “We’ve been trying to figure out how to best resist Trump’s divisive agenda. And one of the concrete steps we’ve taken is to say we will not use our taxpayer dollars to build Trump’s wall,” he said.
The resolution only requires the boycott “in instances where there is no significant additional cost, to be defined in regulations, or conflict with law.” Asked about potential legal issues surrounding the boycott resolution, Oakland City Attorney’s Office chief of staff Alex Katz said he couldn’t comment because it involved legal advice given to Guillén.
“We are legally and ethically prevented from discussing attorney/client advice,” Katz said.
It’s not the first time Oakland has passed a boycott resolution. In 2010, the city council passed a similar resolution boycotting Arizona businesses following the passage of the state’s Senate Bill 1070, colloquially known as the “show your papers” law, requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspected to be an undocumented immigrant. Some parts of that law were struck down in a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, and other provisions abandoned as part of a 2016 settlement, but the core provisions still stand. According to the Los Angeles Times, Oakland’s boycott “delivered little punch,” and the city never actually cancelled any contracts with Arizona firms.
Update: The same night the Oakland Finance and Management committee voted to approve Councilmember Guillén’s proposal, the full Berkeley City Council voted to boycott any company that works on the wall, becoming the first city in the country to do so.