(Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)
Opinion writer

On Thursday, President Trump once again unleashed a torrent of angry tweets about his wall, this time essentially pronouncing the bipartisan conference negotiations over border funding all but dead. Trump variously raged that the deal won’t happen because Democrats won’t give him his wall, and that the wall is already being built. He also declared that we absolutely must call whatever gets built on the border a “wall,” after saying that he’d be fine with calling it a “barrier.”

Cut through the fog of pathology, spin, lies and contradictions, and the upshot of what Trump said is this: If the final deal does not contain what counts by his decree as a down payment on a large and monolithic structure that fulfills the wall fantasy he promised to his supporters, he won’t support it.

A new document that details the latest Democratic offer in the conference negotiations underscores how horribly malicious, reprehensible and removed from reality this stance really is.

The document, which was passed along by a source, offers a freshly detailed breakdown of the money that Democrats are offering to fund the Department of Homeland Security for one year. Bipartisan agreement on this DHS funding would avert another shutdown in mid-February.

Thus, the document represents the outlines of a Democratic blueprint for how to resolve this crisis, and more broadly the beginnings of what a Democratic agenda to address the challenges at the border would look like.

You should read the document yourself, but note this important nugget:

  • Democrats have offered $500 million “to address humanitarian concerns at the border, including medical care, more efficient transportation, food and other consumables, and to support at least one prototype temporary holding facility (72 hours or less) with better conditions and services for migrants.”

That money would go towards alleviating the crush of asylum-seeking families at the border, by upgrading the holding facilities where asylum-seekers are held before their initial processing, by improving transport from remote areas and by adding medical care.

For some reason, in many press write-ups of this debate, this humanitarian side of the Democratic offer keeps getting overlooked. The main focus has been on the border security money that Democrats are offering.

But this half-a-billion dollars to address the humanitarian crisis really is a big deal. It would address what we keep seeing in news reports — migrant families housed in terrible conditions due to border infrastructure that was never designed to handle this type of immigration; migrant children at risk because of poor conditions, or a lack of transportation out of remote areas, or because of lack of proper screening or treatment.

The document also contains a few other things: It suggests Democrats will add legislative language to scale down the funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds. And it would spend real money on various aspects of border security, such as nearly $200 million on a combination of new watercraft, aircraft and sensors, and increased time for overhead patrols. There’s a lot of other stuff in there along these lines.

The basic trade-off at the core of this document, simplified, is that Democrats are trying to nudge the immigration system towards more humane treatment of migrant children and families, in exchange for supporting more border security — not barriers, but the type of security they say is more cost-effective in the 21st century.

Kerri Talbot, the director of federal advocacy for the Immigration Hub, tells me that scaling down of ICE detention beds is meant to push ICE towards deprioritizing the rounding up of longtime undocumented residents with no criminal records. “The proposal pushes the whole system in a more humanitarian direction in exchange for funding more technology,” Talbot told me.

To be as clear as possible, all of this humanitarian money would address something that Trump himself claims to care about -- and constantly attacks Democrats for supposedly not caring about. Trump regularly tweets about the “humanitarian crisis,” and demands that Democrats act to do something about it.

Trump somehow manages to convert this idea into a demand that Democrats should give him his wall to ward off the descending hordes of asylum-seeking migrants, in addition to money to address their humanitarian needs. But Trump never explains how the wall would reduce that migrant flow, since asylum seekers are trying to turn themselves in at the border. As I’ve argued endlessly, this is the actual border crisis, while the security crisis — which Trump hypes to make the case for the wall — is largely hyped, as the numbers apprehended trying to sneak over the border undetected is at historic lows.

To recap: Here we have Democrats trying to give his administration more than half a billion dollars to address the actual humanitarian crisis Trump keeps tweeting about. But Trump won’t accept it, because they haven’t given him his wall, or his barrier, or whatever. Democrats very well may agree to give Trump some barriers if they get concessions in return — one can envision a compromise that works — but even here we’re largely hostage to Trump’s whims, because even if Republicans and Democrats reach a deal that includes such barriers, we have no way of knowing whether he’ll decide they count as his wall or not.