A delegation of House Democrats just took a tour of the stretch of southern border, where 7-year-old migrant Jakelin Caal crossed with her father before perishing of dehydration and liver failure. The Democrats reported horrible conditions at this particular Border Patrol station, with one claiming migrant children are “stacked” in tight conditions and huddled on floors.
Those conditions underscore the degree to which Central American migrations have overwhelmed the border, resulting in what the Democrats on the tour described as a humanitarian crisis. This is a complex, multifaceted problem that — according to even some members of Trump’s own administration — calls for more resources devoted to overhauling the current border infrastructure and to attacking the crisis’ root causes.
Yet even as we speak, lawmakers in Washington are devoting time and energy to finding ways to spend billions of immigration-related dollars assuaging President Trump’s bruised and tender ego.
That’s not an exaggeration. As the New York Times reports, now that Democrats have refused Trump’s demand for $5 billion in money for his border wall, Republicans are “casting about for ways to choreograph a compromise that would protect Mr. Trump’s ego and still be broadly acceptable.”
There’s no doubt that Trump’s ego is precisely what’s at the very center of this whole stalemate. Once again Trump just raged on Twitter that Democrats won’t give him his wall:
This is a bundle of distortions and misdirection. Trump conflates “border security” with “the wall,” as if they are one and the same. But they aren’t. Democrats have offered Trump border security money — $1.6 billion, provided it isn’t spent on his wall, which continues funding levels comparable with the recent past. And Democrats aren’t his only obstacle: The GOP-controlled House has refused to vote on a measure containing the $5 billion Trump wants, because many Republicans are uncertain it can pass. But Trump’s insistence that “we will win on the Wall” is a key tell that this is really just about Trump winning.
Indeed, the need to create the impression that Trump isn’t losing is driving the latest developments. Senate Republicans offered Democrats a deal in which $1 billion of border money would be treated as a “slush fund” for Trump, which presumably could maybe sort of be used toward a wall. Democrats rejected it for that reason. The White House has also vaguely said Trump will somehow find wall money elsewhere.
That latter idea is in keeping with another one of Trump’s claims — that the military will build it, funded by the renegotiated NAFTA, which is meant to show that Mexico is paying for it, after all. But this math isn’t close to credible, and it’s highly likely that Trump can’t find wall money legally without congressional approval, which Democrats won’t grant. So now Republicans are talking about trying to pass a short-term funding bill without the wall money that would kick this battle into the new year, so Trump can say he’ll pick up the fight again.
In one way or another, these ideas are all about saving face for Trump. Congressional Republicans are basically in the process of negotiating his surrender.
Addressing the problem behind Trump’s back
In another move that implicitly illustrates the folly of Trump’s wall stance, we are now learning that the State Department is moving toward committing to spending $5.8 billion on a new “Marshall Plan” for Central American countries that is being championed by the new president of Mexico to address the migrant crisis at its source. It’s unclear how much of this funding is new, and details are in short supply.
But this is a glimmer of good news. It would spend great sums on creating jobs and economic opportunity in the Central American countries that have produced the recent migration explosion. As a Post editorial on this plan explains, our best hope of discouraging these migrations is to address the “massive opportunity deficit” in those countries, which could improve matters, while Trump’s wall simply will not.
It’s unclear whether Trump supports this plan — he might end up backing it to gain Mexican cooperation in holding asylum seekers on their side of the border. But for now, it’s important to note that it cuts directly against the overarching analysis at the core of Trump’s worldview. Trump has threatened to cut off aid to Central America, precisely because these countries (he says) are allowing migrants to get to our country, as if they’re taking advantage of us, which is in keeping with his depiction of the migrants themselves as criminals looking to prey on Americans.
The wall is a monument to Trumpist delusions
That depiction of migrants and their home countries is foundational to Trumpism. In his announcement speech, he didn’t just call Mexicans “rapists.” He also accused Mexico of “sending” them to the United States, which justified his insistence that Mexico will pay for the wall. Trump is now applying this analysis to the current migrant crisis. But it completely overlooks the fact that many of these migrants are driven by desperation and terrible civil conditions at home.
In a sense, the wall itself is a monument to this whole delusion, since it’s grounded in the idea that “tough” deterrence will make the migrants stop trying to take advantage of us, when in reality, it wouldn’t stop them from coming. One can only hope Trump will openly embrace this move by the State Department, which is a step in a much saner direction.
Indeed, if you squint, you can see signs that members of Trump’s administration are trying to approach this whole problem in a saner way than Trump is. Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, has testified to Congress that solving the migrant crisis requires financial support for economic development in Central America and increased regional cooperation more generally.
McAleenan has also called for increased investments in the border infrastructure — which isn’t currently equipped to handle the crush of families — to make it safer and more humane. Hopefully the incoming House Democratic majority will be able to use the oversight process to highlight the need for such solutions in a constructive way.
If there were only a way that we could get Trump to see those things as a “win” for him, we might be able to get somewhere.