The current standoff between President Trump and Democrats in Congress over a physical barrier on our southern border is not your typical Washington budget fight. The stakes are enormous: the future of border security, the path of our immigration policy and the kind of nation we will pass on to our children hang in the balance.
While we are fortunate to have some elected leaders who advocate passionately for immigration enforcement, a disappointing phenomenon seems to occur without fail. The longer immigration policy is haggled over in Washington, the momentum of the debate inevitably creeps away from what is best for America and toward legislation that favors mass migration, lax border enforcement and amnesty for those living here illegally.
President Trump deserves an enormous amount of credit as the most forceful agent for immigration enforcement we have seen in the modern era of the presidency. Without his emphasis on the immigration issue during his campaign and up to the present day, the nation’s problems with open borders would likely not be at the forefront of the current public debate.
That said, even with the President’s willingness to shut down the federal government to get a physical barrier at the border, the terms of the debate are shifting away from what the country desperately wants and needs. While tirelessly advocating for a border wall, President Trump recently tweeted to H1-B holders in the U.S. that changes are coming soon that include “a potential path to citizenship.” Why is this even being suggested, given that a pillar of the President’s campaign was more jobs for Americans? The notion that there are not enough American workers in STEM fields has long been debunked.
In the last immigration-dominated budget fight nearly a year ago, President Trump talked about the four pillars of his immigration framework. They included border security, winding down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, and ending the practice of chain migration and the diversity lottery.
While the President has been willing to extend DACA protections for three years, his most recent proposal made no mention of chain migration and the visa lottery. Given the slow-moving nature of landmark immigration legislation, the issue may not get this much priority for another generation. If chain migration and the visa lottery are not even on the table this time, when will they be? Both policies are giving oxygen to the most corrosive aspects of our nation’s immigration problems.
This drift away from America’s best interests on immigration did not coincide with President Trump’s arrival in Washington. It has been going on for decades. In October 1986, Congress passed the Simpson-Mazoli Act. Among its most significant provisions, the act granted amnesty to approximately 2.7 million illegal aliens who could prove that they had lived in the U.S. for the last four consecutive years. President Reagan signed the bill into law with the understanding that, according to then-Attorney General Ed Meese, the bill would be paired with a promise of robust border enforcement. The amnesty was enacted; the increased border enforcement never came. The lesson is clear: even if concessions for border enforcement are obtained, they must be with a specific timeline for implementation. Handshake agreements are no longer acceptable.
At least in 1986 there was an offering of enhanced enforcement. President Trump has yet to receive a similar offer. For all their denunciations of the President’s offerings and his concessions, what has he gotten in return from the other side? Mostly a thin gruel of talk about a “technological wall” that is absurd on its face. Any proposal other than a physical barrier that allows illegal aliens to enter the country and then be apprehended has nothing in common with a wall. Those entering illegally, especially with young children in tow, trigger a host of protections that make their quick removal all but impossible.
As leaders Pelosi and Schumer refuse to concede an inch on a physical barrier on the wall, why is it President Trump has to make all the concessions? As former President Obama famously said, “Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won.” While Democrats took back the House last fall, President Trump won a comfortable Electoral College victory with a mandate to secure our nation’s borders.
Even if congressional Democrats agreed to President’s Trump offer tomorrow, what would we really get? A physical barrier that is far less than what is needed, in exchange for almost everything the Democrats want short of permanent amnesty. The White House would no doubt hail this as a success, but the worst aspects of our immigration problems would remain. President Trump should see that, agenda-driven media coverage aside, a majority of citizens support the push for an America First immigration policy. Giving in to the drift of the Washington swamp will do no good for his interests or those of America.
Dale L. Wilcox is executive director and general counsel at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.