As President Trump's administration prepares to select companies to design and build prototypes of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, Democrat-controlled state and city governments are considering punishing businesses that pursue the contracts.
Since Election Day, at least seven states and five cities have debated or passed legislation to target those bidders. Some measures would require governments to divest pension funds invested in the businesses. Others would ban contracts with firms that work on a wall. At least one would attempt to ban the sale of public land for wall construction.
All take aim in some way at a project critics deride as not only a colossal waste of tax dollars but also a symbol of intolerance toward immigrants.
California, the bluest of states, has led the effort.
In addition to two bills under consideration in the state Capitol, two cities — Berkeley and Oakland — have adopted resolutions singling out wall bidders, and Los Angeles and San Francisco are considering similar proposals. So, too, is New York City.
"Any money that’s diverted to build a wall, that is going to do nothing for immigration, but it takes away from the basic necessities that we have in our community," said Oakland Councilman Abel Guillen, who authored a resolution to prohibit the city from doing business with companies that participate in building the wall.
"We have in the U.S. a $3 trillion need in infrastructure. At least in my city we have crumbling roads, we have schools that need to be built," he added.
So far no state legislature has voted on such a proposal, and several bills have already died as lawmakers in some states have finished their work for the year. The states where such bills have been considered include Arizona, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.
Backlash to legislation
Critics of the trend say these cities and states could set a dangerous precedent by creating a political litmus test for government contracts — choosing, in some cases, blacklists over the best builders.
“Their intent is something other than interpreting skill,” said Tom Holsman, CEO of Associated General Contractors of California. “It leans toward blacklisting, and blacklisting, as you know, has a very bad connotation.”
Two members of his organization have withdrawn bids for wall-related work out of fear it would jeopardize future contracts.
The bill before the California Legislature applies only to companies that receive contracts, not those that merely submit bids, according to a spokesman for state Sen. Ricardo Lara, who introduced the bill. Some cities, however, are targeting any company bidding on border wall work.
But Holsman said the policies could have an unintended consequence, taking jobs from workers, including undocumented immigrants.
No industry employs more unauthorized immigrants than construction, according to a 2014 study from the Pew Research Center. Immigrants — those in the country legally and illegally — made up 24 percent of the nation's construction workforce in 2014, according to the study.
“This has nothing to do with their ability, but everything to do with their ability to make a living,” Holsman said.
A California trend
Even before Trump was sworn in, California lawmakers began to debate their border wall opposition.
In December, Lara introduced the bill to prohibit the state from awarding or renewing contracts with companies that work on the border wall. Three months later, a state assemblyman introduced a bill to divest pension funds from those contractors.
At around the same time, Berkeley and Oakland launched municipal efforts to discourage companies from participating in "Trump's wall."
Just across the bay, San Francisco is debating a similar ordinance. The author said it remains in committee but will likely come before the full Board of Supervisors this summer.
And this month Los Angeles introduced its version.
L.A. Councilman Gil Cedillo’s proposal does not prohibit the city from entering contracts with border-wall builders, but does require anyone wanting to do business with Los Angeles to disclose any bids on the project. It's unclear what the city would do with that information.
“This all boils down to the type of values we wish to uphold as a community,” Cedillo said in a statement. “Los Angeles chooses love, tolerance and acceptance over hate.”
So far only cities have succeeded in actually passing such measures.
For cities, the process is not only simpler, but there are fewer political barriers because they tend to be more liberal and politically homogeneous, said Clayton Gillette, an New York University law professor specializing in local government.
The cities that have adopted or proposed anti-wall measures are widely considered among the most liberal municipalities in the country.
Several state legislatures continue to debate bills to blacklist companies willing to work on the border wall.
Illinois state Rep. Will Guzzardi drafted legislation that identifies border wall builders and bans them from receiving any of the $15 billion managed by the state investment board.
"My hope is that passing this bill, we’re gonna make it very difficult for them (the federal government) to find any contractors at all who will want to build this thing," he said.
The bill made it out of committee and is awaiting a roll call vote in the state House. Guzzardi said he expects a tight vote, but is confident it can pass the House and Senate. However, they must do it before the general assembly adjourns May 31, and get the governor's approval.
"It’s gonna be a real litmus test for him because we have a Republican governor in Illinois," he said. "And his basic attitude about Donald Trump’s policies has been to not say anything about them."
In New York, lawmakers have until June 21 to vote on Assemblywoman Nily Rozic's bill, which requires the state to list companies committed to working on the border wall. It also directs the comptroller, who manages the state's pension funds, to sell any investments in those companies.
"What you'll notice is that a lot of the legislators who are introducing bills like mine are ... new immigrants, who not only represent immigrant communities, but feel a close connection to the immigrant story," she said. "I was born in Israel and I'm a first generation American, my parents are Argentinian."
Ran out of time
Among the states targeting construction companies, solidly Republican Arizona stands out.
Democrats in the Arizona House introduced the bill to divest public pension funds from wall contracting companies, and outlaw awarding contracts to them. It never got a full House vote before the Legislature adjourned on May 10.
Wisconsin's bill faces similar hurdles. Though Wisconsin was once considered a blue state, Trump carried it in November. The legislature is in session through the end of the year. But Republicans hold super majorities in both chambers, as well as the governorship.
Despite Democratic majorities in New Mexico's legislature, two bills stalled during the 30-day session. One would have divested from blacklisted companies, and another would have outlawed the sale of state lands along the border for the wall.
Angelica Rubio, the freshman New Mexico lawmaker who authored both bills, cited a lack of political will, as well as Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, as obstacles.
"But we also just ran out of time," she said. "We only meet 30 or 60 days every other year."
'Sad attempt to control'
Officials with one company in the running to build a prototype of the border wall isn't concerned about the blacklist legislation popping up in statehouses and cities.
Dennis O'Leary, CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Dark Pulse Technologies, said he's not followed the bills closely but considered it "a bit disturbing" that elected officials would choose politics over a company's merits. That stance could lead to lawsuits, he said.
Dark Pulse Technologies, which joined with other companies on its bid, recently received the green light to continue to the next phase of bidding. The company has until May 30 to submit its final proposal.
Even though the Arizona bill fizzled, the company has offices in New York, where another bill is still under consideration.
"It's definitely not a deterrent, I think it's a sad attempt to control," he said. "I don't see the point in it, or I don't even see it as being effective."