Columnists, Mike Rosen, National

Rosen: Democrats stonewalling on compromise over the wall

The centerpiece of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was undoubtedly his repeated promises of a border wall separating the US from Mexico to inhibit illegal immigration.  He envisioned it as 30-foot-tall massive concrete structure.  “Believe me,” he declared, “it’ll be a great wall, a tremendous wall, a beautiful wall and Mexico will pay for it.”  Of course, this was campaign rhetoric.

Such a project is not something a president can do unilaterally by executive order.  Legislation authorizing it and appropriations funding it are the domain of Congress.  And forcing Mexico to pay for it is problematic.  But the promise resonated with many voters and helped Trump win.

Almost all Democrats in Congress oppose the wall ─ now.  I say “now” because most Democrats, including Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, supported a wall in the past.  In 2006, with huge bipartisan majorities, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act directing the building of 600 miles of multilayer pedestrian barriers along the US-Mexico border.  In 2013, the bipartisan Gang of Eight bill passed the senate with unanimous Democratic support.  It included the “Southern Border Fencing Strategy” with 700 miles of new fencing.  Both of those measures included a compromise.  Republicans got more border security, Democrats got amnesty and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

A similar compromise would break the stalemate today and allow the passage of a Continuing Resolution ending the partial government shutdown.  That compromise would give the Democrats the DACA legislation they want, legalizing the status of “dreamers.”  Trump and the GOP would get a $5 billion appropriation for an installment payment on Trump’s wall.  Trump is willing to make a deal, Democrats are stonewalling.  Why?  1) Because the Democratic Party has moved sharply left since 2006.  Now, they’re the seething anti-Trump “Resistance” and they’re adamant about denying Trump a “victory” in getting the wall he ran on.  This is purely spiteful.  2)  Because a large swath of unrealistic Democrats believe in “open borders” whereby America is morally obliged to take in as many foreigners as choose to come here, billions if necessary, and damn the cost and the fracturing of traditional American culture.  Nancy Pelosi recently called a border wall “immoral.”  3) Because they don’t really want border security.  Their long game is to repopulate the US with enough Latino and other immigrants, whom they assume will overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, ensuring their political fortunes forever.

And money isn’t really the object.  The $5 billion Trump wants for the wall in this stalled Continuing Resolution is one-tenth of one percent of the 4,500 billion (that’s $4.5 trillion) the federal government will spend in 2019.  It’s less than half of what the government spends in a day.

We’re not talking about the Great Wall of China.  The US border with Mexico runs just under 2,000 miles.  According the US border Patrol, there are currently about 700 miles of barriers, 400 of which are pedestrian fences, mostly single fences along with shorter sections of double or triple sections.  Another 300 miles of vehicle fencing allows people to move through but blocks cars and trucks.  New construction currently underway, previously authorized by Congress, is erecting 18-foot-high “bollard” walls.  These are tall steel bars deeply embedded in the ground, spaced with narrow gaps in between allowing Border Patrol officers to see through.  About 40 miles of bollard walls have already replaced inadequate fencing with many more miles planned.

The National Border Patrol Council is the Border Patrol’s labor union.  Its president, Brandon Judd, a former Border Patrol agent, testified before Congress in June 2017.  He stated that 2,000 miles of border wall isn’t necessary.  With large sections of rugged terrain serving as natural obstacles, perhaps 1,000 miles of strategically placed barriers would be sufficient.  Judd explained that proper barriers, so placed, would greatly improve manpower cost effectiveness, requiring only one agent per three of four linear miles.  Without such barriers, we now need one agent per linear mile.

An effective border security network would also include satellite observation, drones, electronic and seismic detection systems, enhanced communications and long-overdue vehicle replacements.  Calling it merely a wall is simplistic.

Another obstacle to a compromise is well-justified Republican concern about trusting Democrats when it comes to “comprehensive immigration reform.”  In past compromise legislation, going back as far as 1986, Republicans went along with amnesty for illegal immigrants in return for a commitment by Democrats to border security.  Democrats got their amnesty then reneged on or slow-walked border security.  Now, Republicans want border security first.  We’re going to have divided government until at least 2021 with a Democratic House vs. a Republican Senate and presidency.  To get anything done, both sides need to compromise.  This would be a good place to start.

One final note.  I was in Berlin after the infamous Berlin Wall was torn down.  At a shop next to what used to be known as “Checkpoint Charlie,” I bought an actual chunk of that wall, stamped in German, “die Mauer” (the wall) and commemorating the dates: August 13, 1961 – November 11, 1989, the life of the wall.  Some critics of a US border wall with Mexico have compared it to the Berlin Wall.  You have to wonder whether anyone can honestly be that irrational, equating a wall intended by our government to keep foreigners from illegally entering the US, with a wall the dictatorial East German government (and its Soviet masters) built to keep its own citizens from getting out.

Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com. 

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