If President Trump wants to end the government shutdown and get Congress to approve funding for his border wall, there’s a way to do it—if he’s willing to compromise with Democrats. Likewise, if Democrats want to end the shutdown and address the humanitarian crisis at the border, they could do that—if they were willing to compromise with Trump.
Right now, neither side wants to budge, not just because each side believes they have the upper hand, but also because the fight over the border wall isn’t really about addressing conditions on the border. It’s about domestic politics and virtue signaling to each side’s respective base.
From Trump’s perspective, the ongoing migrant crisis bolsters his view that we need more funding for a wall. On Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers once again fired tear gas at some 150 migrants who were attempting to force their way past a border fence in San Diego. Meanwhile, the number of Central American families attempting to cross the border illegally continues to rise, with sometimes tragic results (on Christmas Day, an eight-year-old boy from Guatemala died in U.S. custody, the second child to die in U.S. custody along the border over a three-week period).
Democrats blame the ongoing government shutdown on Trump’s demand for $5.6 billion to fund the wall. They have refused to offer more than the $1.3 billion already on the table for new border fencing, and consider the president’s wall policy to be fundamentally racist and immoral. Resisting Trump on this point is, to them, an easy decision they think will win plaudits from their base and cost them nothing, in part because they believe most Americans don’t want an actual border wall.
Democrats are mostly right about that, but that doesn’t mean most American don’t think we have a problem on our southern border. In one recent poll, 86 percent of respondents said security along the southern border is a problem. However, the same poll found that most Americans (56 percent) don’t support Trump’s wall, and an even greater majority (58 percent) think he should withdraw his request for $5 billion to fund the wall. This reflects other polls that have found lackluster support for Trump’s wall, and suggests that Democrats need only hold out until Trump is forced to back down.
But the most important finding from the poll is one that points the way forward and out of the government shutdown. A narrow majority of Americans think Trump and the Democrats should compromise by allocating $2.5 billion for increased border security—the same amount Vice President Mike Pence offered when he and other administration officials met with Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer at the start of the shutdown. Majority support for a compromise like this reflects the reality that Americans know we have problems on our southern border but don’t think sealing it off with a wall is the right approach.
Both Have to Show They Care About the Border
Although Schumer and incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will want to reject any whiff of compromise with Trump over the wall, they should heed the wisdom of the crowd on this. Most Americans rightly believe we have a problem on our southern border. Many of them no doubt suspect that Democratic leaders, in thrall to an increasingly left-wing base, don’t really care about illegal immigration and would be fine with mass amnesty and open borders if it were politically acceptable to say so. Refusing everything but a token funding increase for border security reinforces this perception and erodes Democrats’ credibility.
To get Democrats to deal, Trump should acknowledge that his wall is not a cure-all and that we need to do more than simply secure our border to address the problem of illegal immigration. In addition to more money for the wall, he might concede that Congress should also appropriate more money for processing asylum-seekers at ports of entry and upgrading facilities to house families that are caught crossing illegally.
Some of the families that arrived at our border by caravan have been waiting months to register lawful asylum claims. If Trump acknowledged that they have a right under U.S. law to make such claims, and showed a willingness to increase capacity at our ports of entry to handle those claims in a timely manner (including the appointment of more immigration judges in these areas), he would rob Democrats of a key talking point in this debate—namely, that Trump and the GOP don’t really care about asylum-seekers.
Along with these measures, Trump could initiate a bipartisan effort to stabilize Central American countries that are in various states of collapse. Ignoring the decay of civil society in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala will produce an endless flow of northward migration as families flee endemic poverty and violence. As long as Central Americans are willing to emigrate, there’ll be cartels and smuggling networks—on both sides of the border—ready to take their money. Acknowledging that a wall won’t solve this larger geopolitical issue would signal that Trump takes these matters seriously.
Neither Actually Understands Or Cares About the Border
Most of this is of course wishful thinking because there’s no indication that Trump or the Democrats actually do take these issues seriously. At Trump’s bizarre press conference yesterday ahead of a closed-door meeting with Democratic and Republican leaders, he said he’s willing to keep the government shutdown going “as long as it takes,” and specifically rejected Pence’s idea of taking $2.5 billion for the wall, as if a couple of extra billion dollars for his wall would really secure the border or address the root causes of the migrant crisis.
Pelosi and Schumer are taking a similarly hard line. In an interview yesterday with MSNBC, Pelosi disingenuously pretended that there’s a difference between funding Trump’s “wall” and funding “border security.” After meeting with Trump, Schumer and Pelosi simply repeated their offer to fund the government temporarily at current levels while they continue to debate border security.
There would be a way out of this impasse if either side really wanted to address the problems along our southern border and tackle the larger issue of illegal immigration from Central America. The fact that both Trump and the Democrats refuse—and in such hyperbolic, melodramatic terms—tells you everything you need to know about how serious they are about fixing the border.