President Trump is not the first president to use the Situation Room for maximum effect to persuade lawmakers and other skeptics to adopt an unpopular position, as he did Wednesday to pressure congressional leaders to fund a border wall. I organized such meetings as director of public liaison during the Reagan years when the administration was trying to convince business leaders to oppose sanctions on the apartheid government of South Africa.
It didn’t end well for President Reagan, whose veto of a sanctions bill Congress overrode with bipartisan support in 1986. The tactic didn’t work for President Trump either, as members left the meeting no closer to a deal than when they entered the West Wing.
The American people don’t want a massive wall across our southern border, and the president’s insistence that the government remain shut until he gets his way is more about ego than good public policy.
To be clear, border security is important. But we are a long way from a security crisis on the Mexican border. As I’ve written before, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is dramatically down from its peak in 2000 when 1.6 million people were apprehended trying to sneak in. Last year (FY 2018), the number apprehended was under 400,000. More importantly, we have experienced a net decline in the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States from 12.2 million in 2006 to 10.7 million now. And of those who are illegally present, an estimated 40 percent entered legally but overstayed their visas.
But we are seeing an important change in the composition of the migrant flow at our southern border. In the past, the population consisted mostly of adult workers who had no way of immigrating legally because of country caps and other barriers that meant decades-long waits, especially for people from Latin America.
In the last few years, however, we have seen more families and unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in their home countries. Most of these people are not illegal immigrants, per se, but asylum seekers. Under current law, they can only make their claim for asylum after entering the United States, regardless of how they entered or their legal status. Something needs to be done to discourage thousands of people from just showing up on our border seeking asylum, but a wall won’t do it.
So why does the president insist he must have his $5 billion, not a penny less, to erect a wall, barrier, fence, steel slats, or whatever he can sell as a permanent barricade between the United States and Mexico? Sure it was his signature campaign promise, but he’s broken plenty of promises, even on immigration. He didn’t end DACA on day one, and he certainly didn’t get Mexico to pay for the wall, as he promised, yet the base stays with him.
One group he would lose if he makes a deal with Democrats is right-wing talk show hosts — Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, and others whose obsession with illegal immigration has been driving this issue for more than a decade. Their audiences overlap and probably don’t exceed a few million, but they are highly motivated and can light up the switchboards on the Hill and at the White House when exercised. They are loud, but they do not represent America.
With the partial government shutdown nearly two weeks old — and 800,000 federal employees either not working or working without pay — Congress needs to call the president’s bluff. That includes the GOP-led Senate that already passed a bill to give the president $1.3 billion more for border security. Mitch McConnell should act like the leader of a co-equal branch of government. He doesn’t need the president’s permission to negotiate a compromise with the House. Congress should fulfill its constitutional duty and put a bill on the president’s desk.
Linda Chavez (@ChavezLinda) is chairman of the nonprofit Center for Equal Opportunity. She served President Reagan as White House director of public liaison and before that as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and she was the first Latina ever nominated to the United States Cabinet when George W. Bush nominated her for Labor secretary in 2000.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.