The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Democrats’ best strategic move is to help Trump on immigration

Migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border get into a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle on March 14 near McAllen, Tex. (Eric Gay/AP)

Andy Puzder is the former chief executive of CKE Restaurants and the author of “The Capitalist Comeback.”

Some may question the economic acumen of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), but the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination is clearly no slouch when it comes to the art of politics. So, when Sanders says, as he did during an April 15 Fox News town hall, that illegal immigration has become a “serious problem” that merits government action, Democratic legislators should listen. Or pay attention to a Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday indicating that Democratic voters’ concern about a “crisis” at the southern border has jumped 17 points since January. 

Maybe Democrats in Congress should even work with Republicans to resolve the crisis before the 2020 election.

The recent surge of Central American migrants — more than 100,000 were apprehended or denied entry in March, the most in one month in a dozen years, according to The Post — is beginning to play right into President Trump’s hands, and experienced politicians such as Sanders know it. That’s why he called for “sensible immigration reform” to accommodate an “overflowing” immigration system. 

Ever the advocate of more government, Sanders proposed hiring hundreds of new immigration judges to help expedite immigration proceedings. Policies that stemmed the flow of illegal border crossings would obviously address the underlying problem and vitiate the need for all these judges. But, admitting there is a problem and offering at least some solution is progress — in February, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) toured the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry in California, along with three of his congressional colleagues, and declared, “There is no crisis at the border.”

While there are many factors contributing to the current migration spike — crime, political oppression, a strong U.S. economy with more than 7 million job openings and the desire to escape hardship, to name just a few — Democrats have largely failed to articulate an effective solution. Rather, calls from the left to open the border (then-Democratic National Committee Deputy Chairman Keith Ellison), to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) or otherwise prevent enforcement of U.S. immigration laws have paralyzed a Congress in which meaningful reform requires a bipartisan solution. 

Democrats may not like the “wall” option — although many once did — but it has the benefit of being easily understood and having a clear objective: stemming the flow of illegal immigration. 

With the crisis becoming increasingly apparent and no viable solutions coming from the Democrats, the president has had virtually free rein to dominate and shape the immigration debate.

For example, Trump’s latest proposal to address the border crisis is to ship undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities before releasing them. Any time Trump takes on what his base views as the hypocrisy of “coastal elites” and traps them in his trolling game, he’s winning. The more enraged Democrats become, the more effective that strategy is.

León Krauze

counterpointThe tragedy in Juárez is what a migration deterrence policy looks like

While many on the left blasted the sanctuary-cities solution, actress and entertainer Cher appeared to take it more seriously. No fan of Trump, she inadvertently helped make his point with an April 14 tweet: “I Understand Helping struggling Immigrants, but MY CITY (Los Angeles) ISNT TAKING CARE OF ITS OWN.WHAT ABOUT THE 50,000+Citizens WHO LIVE ON THE STREETS.PPL WHO LIVE BELOW POVERTY LINE,& HUNGRY? If My State Can’t Take Care of Its Own(Many Are VETS)How Can it Take Care Of More.”  

Democratic presidential hopefuls Cory Booker and Kamala D. Harris also seem to have gotten the message. At an April 16 campaign event in Iowa, Booker called on fellow Democrats not to “deny” the problem at the border, acknowledging that “nations should have borders, borders should be respected.” Harris on March 27 tweeted that there is “unmistakably a humanitarian crisis” at the border.

But other candidates vying for the Democratic nomination aren’t on board. Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke in February called for the existing border wall to be torn down, and while campaigning in Iowa on April 4, called Trump’s immigration rhetoric racist and reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Former Obama secretary of housing and urban development Julián Castro, meanwhile, wants to decriminalize illegal immigration and create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — a plan that Trump would surely ridicule to great effect during the presidential campaign as a form of “open borders.”

The country is undoubtedly facing a crisis at the border, and Americans know it. A recent Fox News poll found that immigration is now voters’ top concern (21 percent), out-polling the economy (10 percent) and health care (9 percent). Rather than ceding the political advantage to the White House, Democrats would be wise to work with the president to resolve the crisis — and get immigration off the table before voters go to the polls. 

Read more:

The Post’s View: Neither Trump nor Democrats have advanced a solution for the border. Here’s one.

Dana Milbank: On the border, Trump alone couldn’t fix it. In fact, he broke it.

Letters: The U.S. needs a realistic immigration response to Central America’s failures

Juliette Kayyem: DHS used to guard against all hazards. Trump’s focus on one risk invites disaster.

Henry Olsen: Trump is finally shaking up his immigration policies. But he must tread carefully.