Leonard Zwelling

On Tuesday evening, January 8, 2019, the President of the United States got on national television to try to convince the American people that an existential crisis exists on the southern border of the United States. That threat, he avers, warrants the construction of some sort of inert barrier between Mexico and the United States to stop the flow of immigrants, crime and drugs into our country. He did a poor job, although the words sounded fine. The job was poor, not because the speech was poor. It wasn’t. It was poor because there is no existential threat to the United States on the border with Mexico. His Wall would do no one any good except maybe the government sub-contractors who would build it. This is all significant because Congress, or at least congressional Democrats, do not believe a wall is needed and have no intention of paying the $5.7 billion Mr. Trump wants to build the barrier, a barrier Mexico was supposed to pay for. I use the word barrier because Mr. Trump did and because the Wall has morphed from concrete to steel to slatted wood to Nancy Pelosi’s shower curtain. The estimate on the cost of the latter is only in the millions.

What’s true?

First, there are fewer people trying to gain entrance to the United States from the south than was the case under President Obama.

Second, not 4000, but six known terrorists were stopped at that border during the first half of 2018. Forty-one were stopped at the Canadian border.

Third, most illicit drugs do not enter the country through that border but are shipped through ports of entry. One port of entry where that occurs is Houston. And, by the way, a wall won’t stop drugs on a single-engine plane either.

Fourth, the greatest number of illegal aliens in the United States gets here on legal visas and then overstays them.

Fifth, a humanitarian crisis may exist on the southern border but it is one created by the Trump Administration trying to keep women and children who are seeking political asylum on the border.

There can be no doubt that the current immigration system of the United States is in need of a fix. George W. Bush tried and Mr. Obama wanted to, but as is usually the case, Congress can’t get serious about anything and so nothing gets done.

The government shutdown will elicit some real pain as about 800,000 federal workers will not get paychecks, many deemed essential have been working anyway. The very border patrol that Trump is counting on is being affected by his shutdown. And make no mistake, this is his shutdown. The Dems would be happy to open the government, but cannot on their own. They want to compartmentalize the government opening from the debate over the wall. Mr. Trump does not. He feels this was his campaign promise and he’s not backing down. There’s a stalemate—a Mexican standoff. Nancy Pelosi just upped the ante by withholding her invitation to the president to give the State of the union Address to Congress in two weeks. He in turn has denied her access to military aircraft to go overseas. This has become a real cat fight.

My guess is that once the paychecks go missing the screams from the heartland will get very loud indeed. Either Senate Republicans will go along with the Dems and pass a continuing resolution or something to open the government while leaving the wall until later or this shutdown will go on for quite some time. Or until something bad happens that is directly a result of the shutdown.

It is obvious to most reasonable people that disagreement over immigration policy would be best addressed separately and the government needs to be open and not be held hostage to a campaign promise. Mr. Trump disagrees. He thinks his strategy is a winner for him and that his base is counting on him to hold firm. Whether congressional Republicans remain in his base will largely be determined by emails and phone calls to congressional offices. If the American people scream loud enough, maybe even the usually tone deaf Mr. Trump will hear them.

Barring that, it is my contention that the Democratic leadership ought to give Mr. Trump his money. Let him have $5.7 million for border security. If he chooses to build a wall with it, so be it, but let’s get the government open. It is more important than a political victory. Nancy and Chuck should throw in the towel for the good of the over one million Americans who need those paychecks restored or whose businesses depend on government workers. Right now, both sides are cutting off their noses despite their faces.

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