Despite Trump, Congress should seek immigration compromise

November 15, 2018

Here we go again.

Another deadline approaches for Congress to pass a mandatory spending bill that would fund 25 percent of the federal government beyond Dec. 7.

True to form, President Donald Trump hints he will shut down one quarter of the federal government unless the new congressional spending package includes billions to build his U.S-Mexico border wall.

“We need the money to build the wall — the whole wall,” Trump said last week. This is a refrain Trump sang before the last spending deadline was resolved in September.

Back then Trump threatened a government shutdown in press conferences, campaign rallies and on Twitter. Congress passed, and Trump signed, a spending bill funding 75 percent of the federal budget until Oct. 1, 2019. No federal dollars were budgeted for border wall construction.

Now, Trump again has renewed his warning to shut down part of the government if he does not receive wall funding.

Trump’s latest shutdown threat over an immigration issue drips with irony. If Trump moves to shutter some government functions, the agency that will cease operations is Homeland Security. That would be the same department that oversees immigration control and border wall construction.

If Homeland Security staffers are furloughed, the only Americans waiting to meet the caravan of immigrants now walking across Mexico will be the 5,000 troops Trump ordered to the southern border… a classic, and literal, Mexican standoff.

Beyond the wall-funding demands, Trump last week issued an order enacting a 90-day ban on entry to any immigrant seeking asylum anywhere other than a border-crossing port of entry. The president cited the migrant caravan as a crisis that prompted him to “take immediate action to protect the national interest.” Trump critics see this as a vehicle for quick deportation of any migrants who seek asylum but enter the country at any place other than an official border crossing.

Suppressing immigrants is a Trump rally-cry standard. It proved an effective campaign strategy in 2016. Scare tactics and bellicose rhetoric served Trump spectacularly well to elect him president of the United States. The man certainly knows how to make the best of the bully pulpit, with the emphasis on “bully.”

But the mid-term election results in 2018 sent a distinctly different signal. The bluster and pointless cruelty of Trump’s hard line immigration policies are wearing thin. The harsh anti-immigration language, and other boorish Trump behavior, turned off voters in the densely populated and highly educated suburbs where Republican candidates, until recently, had thrived.

Republicans have two very large and inter-related barriers to recovering their momentum for the 2020 election cycle. They must win back the suburban voter. And, to do so, they must disown, or at least muzzle, their standard-bearer, Donald Trump. Good luck with that.

Immigration is an issue that can help the Republican cause. With a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives coming, Republicans could find areas of common cause on immigration.

Bipartisan efforts the last two years have attempted, unsuccessfully, to address the legal status of “dreamers,” the children of immigrants who entered the country illegally. Past efforts, dating back to the administration of President George W. Bush, also failed to establish a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million immigrants who entered unlawfully, but who otherwise have proved contributing, law-abiding residents.

If congressional Republicans can reach consensus on immigration compromise, Democratic leaders have indicated they will hold their nose and approve some funding for Trump’s border wall. The president could seize it as a success and claim credit for the win. But he would have to give up his favorite attack target — illegal immigrants — and that’s probably asking too much.

Still, immigration is an opportunity for both parties to demonstrate Congress can still govern by compromise and consensus.

It wasn’t that long ago that the United States prided itself on providing safe harbor for asylum seekers fleeing oppression or destitution in their native countries. Americans once boasted that America prospered because we were a melting pot of many cultures and nationalities.

Republicans must recognize that it is not in the party’s long-term interests to keep alienating Latino voters and the many college-educated suburban voters who want to see some empathy in immigration policy.

Republicans could return to a more “compassionate conservative” approach. Beyond being the right thing to do, it is also the politically expedient choice.


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