Trump’s Wall to Nowhere

This is a sentence:

Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.[1]

That was Donald Trump in July of 2015. Ignore the nonsense – pretend Donald Trump is smart, assume he’s “disadvantaged,” gloss over his claim that intelligence is linked to gender – and you may notice a certain respect for MIT: I know MIT is great – bigly! – and its professors are very, very, smart. My my uncle taught there, you can almost hear the man saying.

Who knows what President Trump thinks of the university now? Bidding on construction of his border wall ended two weeks ago,[2] and an article in the MIT Technology Review puts its cost at nearly $40 billion.[3] That’s twice the Department of Homeland Security estimate of $21 billion,[4] and five times the $8 billion number he pulled out of thin air.[5] If there’s a silver lining for Trump, it’s that MIT’s estimate is still lower than Senate Democrats’ figure of $70 billion.[6] There’s also the knowledge that Trump’s support for a wall was never based on facts, so most people who supported his wall before knowing the costs still favor it now.

If you consider The Wall unnecessary, alienating, and a phenomenal waste of money, there’s good news. The federal government only has $20 million to spend on the project – enough to build 7 miles of wall.[7] The Mexican government, which President Trump expected to pay for the wall, has told him to take a hike. Now he’s asking Congress to approve funds for a 2,000-mile boondoggle. Fortunately, Democrats are united in opposition to the move, as our elected representatives know well. If President Trump expects eight Democratic senators to support his wall, maybe Jeff Sessions’ crackdown on marijuana should start at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

That hasn’t kept the White House from trying to find eight votes. First, Trump threatened to withhold payments vital to the Affordable Care Act, promising to restore a dollar in subsidies for every dollar spent building The Wall. Unfortunately for him, health care is more popular than border walls. While Americans are split on the Affordable Care Act, just 35% of the public supports his wall.[8] Maybe that’s why President Trump is changing tactics, hinting that he might veto a budget that lacks funding for a 2,000-mile eyesore along the Mexican border. It takes guts to shut down the government to ram through a policy 3 in 5 voters dislike, but it looks like Trump may do just that. Will he be able to blame a shutdown on Democrats? Maybe. Will his wall ever span the Mexican border? Not likely.

So, if The Wall is going nowhere, can we stop worrying about Trump’s immigration policy? Not so fast. The trend Trump wants to stop – Mexican migration to the U.S. – ground to a halt several years ago; since the Great Recession, net migration from Mexico to the U.S. has been negligible. The 11 million undocumented immigrants[9] living in legal limbo are a more pressing concern.

While President Obama’s administration focused on deporting those with criminal records, the Trump administration has doubled arrests of noncriminal migrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.[10] Parents; breadwinners; business owners; “Dreamers” brought to the U.S. as children: all have been caught up in the dragnet, as immigration arrests have risen by a third.[11] The very threat of deportation has long made undocumented workers vulnerable to exploitation by unethical employers, leading to poor working conditions and driving down the wages citizens and permanent residents can demand. Targeting law-abiding undocumented migrants won’t help. Crucially, most of these actions fall outside Congress’ purview; Trump can choose to enforce immigration laws as harshly, or as humanely, as he wants.

The arguments for a more humane immigration policy aren’t new, and they were true long before the 2016 election. That’s why Democrats favored comprehensive immigration reform in the first place, and it’s why we can’t stop discussing that vision now. It would be easy to spend the next four years blasting President Trump’s immigration policy – the raids, The Wall, and his two Muslim bans – but eventually being against Trump won’t be enough. Millions of undocumented migrants will still be here when Trump’s gone, and Democrats will need to tackle the hard work of immigration reform. If we spend the coming years making the case for reform, contrasting the benefits of an inclusive policy with the costs of Trump’s approach, reform-minded Democrats can depend on the public’s backing. Otherwise, we may face the same challenges that have kept Republicans from uniting behind one health-care bill, after seven years of opposition to the ACA without any discussion of the alternatives. President Trump’s made it easy to oppose his immigration policy. Now Democrats need a plan voters can support.

[1] (4/16/17)

[2] (4/16/17)

[3] (4/16/17)

[4] (4/16/17)

[5] (4/16/17)

[6] (4/18/17)

[7] (4/16/17)

[8] (4/24/17)

[9] (4/16/17)

[10] (4/16/17)

[11] (see above)

Photo Credit: Force Change

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