WITH THE federal government’s partial shutdown now entering a third week, Washington is in a deep hole, and the major players’ enthusiasm for digging is undiminished.
President Trump is primarily responsible, obviously, having first signaled he would sign a spending bill to keep the government running into February, only to cave to hard-liners in his base by refusing to sign just such a measure when the Republican-controlled Senate passed it before the holidays. That has put Republican Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the Senate majority leader, in a petulant funk, refusing to consider any legislation to fund the government until the president first says he’ll sign it.
Those seeking a compromise might reasonably invest their hopes in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a canny political pro who is second to none in getting to yes. However, she will have an easier time pulling a rabbit out of this hat if she stops opposing Mr. Trump’s wall in absolutist terms, calling it “immoral,” as she did last month, and “an immorality between countries,” as she said Thursday.
We understand the sentiment: Mr. Trump’s inflaming of prejudice and lying about the danger posed by immigrants are indeed immoral. But the problem with a wall isn’t that it’s immoral; Democrats have never opposed border security, including by means of tall fencing where that makes sense. The problem with Mr. Trump’s wall is that it would be ineffective and a waste of money. Illegal border crossing into the United States has been dropping for decades, as measured by the numbers of migrants arrested along the southwestern frontier. About half of the nation’s undocumented immigrants are now thought to have arrived legally, often at airports, and overstayed their visas. No wall will compel them to depart when their visas expire. Building a wall would not even stanch the current surge of asylum-seeking families, most of whom present themselves to U.S. border officials at legal ports of entry.
Rather than talk about the immorality of a wall, Democrats could use their leverage to achieve a truly moral purpose. In return for a few billion dollars for a segment of the president’s wall — which would immediately be challenged in court by property owners along the border — Democrats might permanently shield from deportation well over 1 million “dreamers,” young migrants primarily brought to this country as children by their parents. They might also protect tens of thousands of Haitians, Salvadorans and Hondurans whom the administration is preparing to expel after having lived legally in this country for years under a program known as Temporary Protected Status.
The difficulty, we understand, is that the president cannot be trusted to bargain in good faith. He agreed to a wall-for-dreamers deal last spring, only to renege when his nativist aides and base objected. Now Mr. Trump cannot expect Democrats to deal unless he goes first, committing unequivocally to legalize the dreamers and TPS migrants in exchange for some border security.
It’s a long shot. But Democrats should leave themselves in a position to say yes if that long shot comes home. They would accomplish a great good for a huge number of blameless people — and for the country.