As 2019 began, newly empaneled Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi vowed, “There’s not going to be any wall money,” referring to legislation needed to fund the government.
Pelosi’s Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, was even clearer about Democratic leadership’s view of the border wall. “Democrats are against the wall,” Schumer stated with uncharacteristic brevity. Thankfully, the president still managed to secure nearly 100 miles of wall construction and border fencing over the last three years by using Department of Defense money dedicated to related purposes.
As 2019 came to a close, however, the Democrats’ categorical rejection of funding for a secure border barrier became somewhat less categorical. Facing yet another bill to fund the government, 150 House Democrats joined with 130 Republicans in support of an appropriations measure that included nearly $1.4 billion for border wall construction. At current cost estimates, that money will fund about 70 miles of new security fencing.
To be clear, $1.4 billion is woefully inadequate to address the magnitude of the border crisis that was plainly evident in 2019. The flood of migrants who easily crossed our border, attempting to exploit U.S. political asylum policies and limits on detention for people who arrive with minors in tow, spiked last spring, before the Trump administration instituted policies and agreements with foreign governments that seem to have deterred some of the abuse.
But in the case of the spending bill that was approved in December, the act of approving funding for border wall construction is more important than the dollar figure. Much like George Bernard Shaw’s apocryphal dinner companion, the Democrats’ agreement to any funding for the border wall is a tacit concession that it serves a national interest. In a rare missed tweeting opportunity, the president could legitimately have responded, “Madam (speaker), now we are just haggling about price.”
While Pelosi and other Democratic leaders might argue that the 150 House members who broke ranks with the party’s adamant opposition to border wall construction was merely an act of political expediency — a $1.4 billion pay-off to keep the federal government funded for the remainder of the fiscal year — it is also a nod to political reality. Democrats may hold a majority in the House, but unlike the speaker and other vocal critics of a border wall, the majority of the caucus does not represent San Francisco or similarly deep blue districts where immigration enforcement is anathema.
In much of the rest of the country, immigration ranks at, or near, the top of voters’ list of concerns. And among voters who view immigration as their top policy concern, a solid majority want to see more enforcement of our laws — including the all-important cohort of independent voters. (Oh, by the way, 2020 is an election year!)
While Democrats vying to be their party’s standard bearer in November are intent on pandering to the demands of left-leaning voters who will decide the presidential nominee, many House Democrats — particularly those “purple district” freshmen who flipped the House in 2018 — do not have the luxury of ignoring their constituents’ concerns about border security.
Politics aside, the wall is also an effective deterrent to illegal immigration and a critical component of the effort to stop the flow of drugs and other contraband across our border. In locations from San Diego, California to McAllen, Texas, federal and local law enforcement officials attest to the fact that the border wall, in conjunction with other deterrent measures, is critical to securing our border and protecting the safety of Americans who live along it. In the view of those who live and work along the border, the biggest problem with the border wall is that there is not enough of it.
Whether Pelosi and the Democratic leadership recognize it, when a majority of Democratic lawmakers agreed to appropriate $1.4 billion of the public’s money for border wall construction, they crossed the Rubicon. In doing so, they acknowledged the wall is effective and necessary. If 70 miles of new fencing is necessary to secure stretches of border that are now open to illegal immigration and criminal cartels that smuggle human being and drugs into the country, it becomes impossible to argue on principle against additional funding for border wall construction in other areas where there is a demonstrable need.
From this point forward, it is reasonable to say that a majority of House Democrats are border wall supporters. Now, they and the president are just haggling about price.
Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a nonprofit group that advocates for legal immigration.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.