Compromise on the Wall

By on January 29, 2019

The recent government shutdown was an impasse that can be attributed to a disagreement on the issue of border security. President Trump has said he will not sign a budget without $5.7 billion of funding for his border wall, and newly elected Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, refuses to give it to him. A recent deal has reopened the government for three weeks while negotiations take place, but the impasse remains.

Both sides are intractably dug in over the wall issue, not because of policy itself, but the symbolism. The wall was the avatar of the Trump immigration platform, and so Republicans demand it. By the same logic, Democrats oppose and resist it in any way possible. The Republicans are correct on the merits of the issue, but I believe they need to compromise because they do not hold all of the levers of power.

However, what about the arguments Democrats give against the wall? Firstly, is it too expensive? As House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy points out, the $5.7 billion requested by the President is roughly one-tenth of one percent of the annual federal budget. It’s a rounding error, and not significant in any way, especially not compared to the programs some Democrats have suggested. For example, Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan would cost an estimated $32.6 trillion over 10 years, according to a Mercatus Center study.

Another case was the one advanced by Speaker Pelosi in the run up to President Trump’s national address on the issue is that the wall itself is inherently immoral. But if a border barrier is itself immoral, are we not also obliged to remove all of the barriers that currently exist there?

Also, while they don’t currently support a wall, then Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton–not to mention current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer–did vote for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, according to the Washington Post, which was geared towards building fencing on the southern border.

What makes a wall immoral and a fence not?

The answer is that neither is immoral, because a wall is a tool towards a goal. It could only be immoral if the end towards which it was being used–keeping people from illegally entering the country–was itself an immoral goal.

The final main case, made by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, is that a wall to the extent proposed by the president would be ineffective, according to Fox News. There is more to this than the other objections, but not enough to stick the landing. Yes, it would be possible for somebody to use a ladder to climb over a wall, or tunnel under it, or go around it, or bring siege equipment to break it down.

That’s all true, but the purpose of a wall is not to stop 100 percent of all illegal immigration. It is to make it more difficult to enter the country illegally, and the number of people who will climb over or tunnel under a wall is much less than the number who would simply walk across in its absence.

Yes, a wall is not needed on some parts of the border, whether it be for natural reasons such as rivers, where it would just be more cost effective to use technology or where there are already adequate barriers.

This is why Trump is asking for $5.7 billion, according to the Wall Street instead of the estimated $15-25 billion it would require to build a wall all across the southern border, according to various studies that have been done, including one in the New York Times.

But all of that being the case, President Trump is not blameless in the current situation. There was no reason he couldn’t have demanded his wall during the past two years when the Republicans held the House. And even if he wouldn’t have been able to get it then, his odds would have been far better than they are now.

Regardless of whether you consider the 2018 midterms a “wave” year for the Democrats or not, the consequence is that Republicans are no longer able to implement policy without Democratic help.

This is simply the reality of the situation, so if Trump wants his wall, he has to offer the Democrats something reasonable. There are a few ideas that I think could work towards it.

Firstly, consider trading wall funding for a complete amnesty for DACA recipients. DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was an Obama-era program giving legal status to illegal immigrants who were brought here as children by their parents, without a choice in the matter.

Protecting DACA recipients has been a major priority for Democrats, so I believe the Republicans should allow the matter to be put to rest by giving them citizenship.

This is the correct thing to do since they grew up in America, knowing no other country, and did not choose to break our laws. But it would also be a savvy political move by Republicans. The case for a wider amnesty for illegal immigrants hinges on the most sympathetic members of the class.

With DACA members no longer a concern, what is left is people who chose to break our laws and violate the American lawmakers right to decide who is allowed to join them. It would weaken the case for a broad amnesty that Democratic activists might push for, and since the Republicans correctly oppose such a move, they should consider taking DACA off the table.

A second option would be to give the $5.7 billion to border security to use as they see fit. That way they could build barriers, hire more employees or invest in technology where needed. More importantly, for the political aspect, it would allow both sides to save face. Speaker Pelosi could claim to her side that she stopped the wall and President Trump could claim to his side that he secured the border. It would also address Democratic concerns on the effectiveness question mentioned above.

Will any of that happen in the near future though? Probably not. But if we want a real, lasting answer, compromise appears to be the only solution.

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