The Democrats’ latest efforts at preventing President Trump from expanding our wall system along the southern border are yet another brazen attempt to exploit the immigration issue for political gain. Furthermore, their extreme rhetoric over the last several months demonstrates a willful underestimation of the grave challenges we are facing at the southern border just because it doesn’t fit their preferred political narrative.
From a policy standpoint, it made no sense for the Democrats to oppose the $5.7 billion dollars requested by President Trump for fencing. Fencing has always been accepted by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress as one of the measures that has to be part of any comprehensive border security strategy. Democrats, in fact, have overwhelmingly voted for it in the recent past. This had never been a toxic issue or one that elicited major disagreement.
Moreover, the president moderated his proposal. He wasn’t asking for money to build a 2000-mile concrete wall. He requested funds to strategically erect fences in specific areas of the border. The price tag also went down substantially from the initial $25 billion he requested. A compromise should have easily been reached.
But the Democrats refused to come to the table. Speaker Pelosi called erecting any sort of barrier “immoral” while the majority of her fellow Democrats called it “useless,” “ineffective” and “a waste of money.” Both Schumer and Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership pledged to not only oppose the specific funding request but refuse to provide any funding at all for the wall in the spending bill for Homeland Security, which ultimately led to the shutdown.
Incredibly, however, after ensuring that they had inflicted enough political damage on the president, they silently reversed their position, agreeing with congressional Republicans to $1.4 billion dollars for fencing.
All the problems created by the shutdown, which they pinned on the president constantly on live TV for weeks — the difficult time that the furloughed federal employees had to go through without a paycheck, the closing of national parks, the absences of air traffic controllers — could have been avoided if they would have agreed to the funding back in December. The shameless political gamesmanship could have not been more obvious.
Yet, the political histrionics are not over. After the president announced that he would declare a national emergency to redirect funds from other agencies for the construction of fencing, Democrats wasted no time to blast the president for allegedly undermining congressional authority. California Governor Gavin Newsom stated that “President Trump is manufacturing a crisis… in order to seize power and undermine the constitution” and that he is “using the powers of America’s highest office to fan the flames of nativism and xenophobia.”
I understand the legitimate concern that many conservatives have with the president’s move. It creates a dangerous precedent that future Democratic presidents could use to advance their liberal policies.
The Democrats’ criticism seems less sincere. After all, they supported President Obama when he sidestepped Congress and, with questionable legal and constitutional authority, created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to shield those who arrived in the country illegally as minors from deportation. They thought Obama was justified in acting because Congress had not legislated to help the so-called “Dreamers.” Where was their concern for the constitutional separation of powers then?
They insist, nonetheless, that there is no crisis at the border — that the president is fabricating the crisis just so he can get more money to build the wall. They say the border is secure because the number of people trying to enter illegally through it has dropped dramatically compared to ten years ago when it reached over one million.
This line of reasoning is intellectually dishonest and they know it. While it’s true that overall numbers went down over the last decade, they still remained very high. More than half a million people tried to enter without authorization in fiscal year 2018. And what is worse, this week Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials reported that the number of unauthorized entries has surged this fiscal year, with arrests increasing by 97 percent since last year. More than 76,000 migrants tried to cross the border illegally in February, an eleven year high.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warned Wednesday in testimony before the House of Representatives that, at the current pace, by the end of the year the total number of illegal border crossings may be back to close to one million. Nielsen told members that the current volume of illegal traffic is so high that she “can no longer assure you of who’s coming into the country that’s a direct national security threat.”
On top of that, the southern border continues to be a key route in the sex trafficking of women and children. A third of the women coming in illegally through the border, in fact, are victims of sexual assault.
Let’s not forget either that the bulk of the opioids coming in to the country — which has led to a severe health and addiction crisis that is ravaging communities throughout the country — is entering through the southern border. Democrats counter by arguing that most of the drugs enter through the ports of entry and that fencing therefore would not stop them.
Once again, their arguments are misleading. Border security experts agree that it’s very difficult for the Border Patrol to properly focus its attention and resources on detaining drug trafficking at ports of entry when it has to constantly worry about hundreds of thousands of people trying to sneak in between them. That is why most Border Patrol officials agree that additional fencing is needed.
I understand if Democrats want to make a political issue about the language the president uses to talk about his “big beautiful wall.” That’s fair. But what is wrong is to trivialize a serious national crisis and oppose a necessary policy measure simply because it’s politically convenient.
Alfonso Aguilar is the president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and the former chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship in the administration of George W. Bush.