Conservatives need to be very cautious when contemplating the president’s offer to Democrats, which includes amnesty in exchange for mere border funding and no critical policy changes. The president might have one intention or strategy in mind, but the majority of Senate Republicans love amnesty in its own right, even without anything in return. Consequently, any rush to begin negotiating down can lead to a slippery slope into the abyss of open borders.
Senators have spent the past month doing nothing. They could have forced Democrats to hold the floor and continuously force procedural votes on numerous bills placing them in vulnerable positions. They could have voted on legislation cutting off funding to sanctuary cities, ending the border loopholes, and ending welfare for illegal aliens. But no. They did nothing. Now they plan to bring an amnesty bill to the floor, at the behest of President Trump.
On Saturday, Trump offered Democrats the following in return for $5.7 billion in border funding and some funding for technology, more border agents, and immigration judges:
There is nothing so permanent as a temporary amnesty. Trump promised to end these amnesties, and this is the last stop on the train. Nobody can say with a straight face that once this is extended for three years, it won’t become permanent.
Trump is already negotiating with himself in public:
No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer. It is a 3 year extension of DACA. Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else. Likewise there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally-but be careful Nancy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 20, 2019
There are plenty of people both in the White House and in the Senate who are desperate to end the shutdown and are desperate for DACA amnesty. Conservatives must hold the right flank and ensure that this doesn’t spiral out of control.
I’ve already explained why, as a matter of policy, such a deal is worse than nothing. Amnesty for the gradual construction of a partial border wall and more agents and immigration judges to manage the invasion, not block it, is no deal at all. Trump himself rightfully said this last year:
We shouldn’t be hiring judges by the thousands, as our ridiculous immigration laws demand, we should be changing our laws, building the Wall, hire Border Agents and Ice and not let people come into our country based on the legal phrase they are told to say as their password.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 21, 2018
The border wall is like a bandage, while the asylum, UAC, Flores, and other judicial magnets are the actual wound. It’s shocking that those universally understood flaws in our system were never even put on the table for this negotiation. Absent the closing of those loopholes, a partial wall is worthless.
The problem with an amnesty-driven negotiation
Some have suggested that Trump understands Democrats would never take this deal, and therefore he is just exposing their radical position. Fine. But then once they reject it, this should be the end of amnesty discussions. Trump needs to go back to talking only about the harms of illegal immigration and how DACA caused this border crisis. DACA is not the solution; it’s the problem.
The concern is that once Trump officially blesses the idea of amnesty in this context, Senate Republicans will run with this. They will allow Democrats to negotiate down further, and we’ll be left with a few billion dollars, no policy changes to fix a policy problem, and a new amnesty.
Here’s how this would look.
McConnell is bringing this proposal to the Senate floor this week. Of course, he is also adding on $12 billion more in disaster aid, after we’ve already spent close to $100 billion in extra disaster aid over the past year. No legislative proposal is complete without more spending.
It’s still unclear whether enough Democrats would vote for this proposal. If they vote it down, then Trump should go nuclear on them, back off all amnesty, and threaten to use his lawful powers to deploy the military and build bases, infrastructure, and walls in support of a more robust military operation that we need at our border anyway.
But here is the concern if conservatives are not cautious in setting red lines on this deal. Schumer might possibly allow seven or so Democrats to vote the bill out of the Senate. Then, Pelosi, with a simple majority, adds a more robust amnesty that is more palatable to all Democrats (quietly knowing that most Senate Republicans want it too). Then it passes the Senate again. Democrats know that Trump so badly wants “the wall” that he might take amnesty and no policy changes so long as he can say he got wall funding. Then we will be left with 230 miles of gradually constructed wall in exchange for immediate amnesty.
House Republicans already voted for a bare-bones DACA extension last year, but that was in return for a Christmas tree of everything conservatives want on immigration: end of all border and interior magnets, stepped-up deportations, end to sanctuaries, abolishing chain migration, and much more. Any amnesty for a few billion dollars in the context of a policy problem is a terrible trade.
The worst of all worlds
This is the opening bid, so we know it will get much worse. But even if this plan got enacted as is, it would be worse than nothing. Not a single policy that is currently inducing this wave of family units would be changed. The tide would only grow, because now there is the perception that more people will get amnesty if they successfully make their way here and obtain the benefits of catch-and-release. Moreover, the fact that more money will go into a border wall will create an even greater rush to benefit from the widening of the “child magnet” before the window of the border wall closes.
But since this is not the full border wall, the cartels will still harness the catch-and-release policies to get around the new construction. Jaeson Jones, who served for over two decades in the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division, fears this half-baked approach will further empower the cartels. “The belief that a partial wall will stop human smuggling and the trafficking crisis at our southwest border is wrong,” said the retired captain and expert on drug cartels. “It is another example of our government underestimating the capabilities of the Mexican cartels. The cartels will simply build infrastructure on the Mexico side to reach areas where the wall is not present.”
Jones noted that there is precedent for this. Walls definitely work, but they must come as part of a holistic approach of de-magnetizing the border. “In 1993, El Paso, Texas, created Operation Hold the Line, where they utilized a wall and agents to make apprehensions of anyone who attempted to climb over. As a result, apprehensions were reduced by over 70 percent. However, the areas where I worked as a Texas Highway Patrolman outside the boundaries of the wall, all the smuggling occurred. The areas became crime-ridden. Later, the wall would be extended, reaching well beyond the city limits of El Paso, once again pushing human smuggling and trafficking further out into the nearby county of Hudspeth County, Texas, as we see it today.”
In other words, doing half construction with even bigger incentives for amnesty is the worst of all worlds. We need to build the full wall and close the lawfare loopholes giving the cartels these clients to begin with. It’s better to do nothing and live to fight another day than to gradually construct a partial fence in this legal environment at the border. This is why we are seeing hundreds of people come to open areas in the fencing to surrender themselves. The courts are even giving standing to people to sue for entry from outside of the country, even where there is a wall blocking them.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that walls worked great during the Mexican wave of migration because Mexicans didn’t want to get caught by Border Patrol. Thus, a wall slows them down and makes it almost impossible for them to get over undetected, even if they have the wherewithal to scale the wall. The problem with the current Central American wave driven by lawfare is that they want to get caught so they can surrender themselves to agents. This is why we are now seeing the cartels help drop kids over border fences, including the much vaunted 18-foot fence in Yuma.
Already in November, we saw this growing trend of family units coming over the fence. At the time, I spoke with Sheriff Leon Wilmot of Yuma County, and he was frustrated that everyone is missing the point about the lawfare. “We already have a fence here, and it worked fine during Operation Streamline last decade, when we prosecuted 100 percent of the border crossers rather than processing them. But now they are just hanging off the fence and surrendering themselves to border agents.” He told me about women “dropping babies off the fence” and breaking limbs. His sheriff’s deputies must deal with the medical emergencies. “None of these folks are being prosecuted. My deputies are the ones who have to take those rape and robbery reports because the feds refuse to do their jobs.”
Wilmot and other border sheriffs strongly back the president’s call for a border wall, but the wall must be backed by a deterrent not to enter the country. Doubling down on amnesty without closing loopholes and ramping up prosecutions will only encourage the cartels to create more infrastructure for the lawfare to supersede the wall. A wall can stop a physical invasion, but it can’t stop a judicial invitation to come here with kids and get amnesty.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.