The Democrats Should Compromise on a Border Wall

Oscar Berry, Opinion Editor

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Editor’s Note: The following opinion was written before the government reopened on January 25th. The bill passed will fund the government for an additional three weeks. If the disagreements over the border wall have not been resolved by then, the status of the government’s funding remains unclear.

As I sit here on January 13th, the federal government has been in a state of partial shutdown for 23 days. The President’s promise of vetoing any spending bill without significant funding for the construction of further barrier infrastructure along the southern border and the Democrats’ refusal to grant him any such funds, have led to this impasse, and the disastrous effects are already beginning to be felt. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees, without paychecks, find themselves unable to come to work or are working with rock-bottom morale and lowered effectiveness.

It is estimated that every week the shutdown continues, the nation will lose almost two billion dollars worth of economic activity—and if it continues into February, that number is expected to skyrocket. With intense pressure from the bases of both the GOP and the Democratic Party not to give in, it seems as though an end to this shutdown is nowhere in sight. However, the longer this shutdown goes on, the more ordinary citizens will suffer, critical health, education, and treasury programs will go unfunded, and faith in democratic institutions themselves will be lowered. It is for these reasons that it is imperative that the Democratic Party return to the negotiating table and offer increased funding for wall construction in exchange for a deal on the DACA “Dreamers” and immigration reform.

The Democrats have a great opportunity to put the issue of a border wall to rest.”

First, let’s a put a few things in context. Do I support the construction of a massive “border wall” on our southern border? No, I do not. I think it is an entirely ineffective and wasteful solution for an illegal immigration “crisis” that is nonexistent in the first place. Experts have put a price tag of around $30 billion on the border wall that the President first proposed during the 2016 campaign, and while he has claimed that the funding demand is for this so-called wall, he is actually asking just over $5 billion to fund the expansion of existing wall and fencing sections. On a purely practical level, funding the President’s demands would have little effect on the actual situation on the southern border.

In return, Democrats should tie in a legislative package that would offer a path to legal status or citizenship for the more than one million Dreamers—mainly undocumented immigrants who are already young adults. They should also include protection for the more than 300,000 long-term residents who were forced to leave their home countries due to oppression or natural disasters, whom the President has threatened to have deported numerous times.

With the practical effects of funding for such a project expected to be minimal, the Democrats have a great opportunity to put the issue of a border wall to rest. For many years now, this issue has been a sticking point in almost every immigration debate and has served only to poison our political discourse.

The President will most likely continue to demand additional funding as a 2020 campaign strategy, but by putting so much at stake for this shutdown, it is unlikely the issue will have the same attention and influence if it is resolved here and now. I think it is a price worth paying for the Democrats for removing the divisive issue from our national discourse and weakening one of the Trump campaign’s key arguments.

This proposed deal is controversial and would be distasteful to progressive activists, who reject any funding for wall construction. However, if there is anyone who can reach across the aisle to broker a deal while keeping her left flank in check, it would be the current House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who successfully shut down a short-lived progressive revolt two weeks ago. If she navigates the treacherous politics of Washington effectively, she can secure a favorable deal for the Dreamers, disarm the President on a major campaign issue, and emerge victorious from a seemingly impossible political stalemate.

This piece also appears in our January 2019 print edition.