What to do about the border?

Does the nation need more wall/fencing/barrier at its southern border with Mexico? 

I don’t know. I doubt that most members of Congress or the president do either.

Democrats and Republicans have taken sides. Almost without exception, Democrats oppose more wall and Republicans favor it. The standoff resulted in the record-setting 35-day shutdown of the federal government. 

Media — broadcast, print and social — now load us down with arguments over who won and who lost when President Trump late last week reopened the government until Feb. 15. Like this Sunday’s Super Bowl, millions of Americans are lining up for one side or the other.

The question is what to do about illegal immigration. It’s not whose scalp hangs in whose trophy case.

My own opinion is that we didn’t need a 35-day shutdown, and I blame Trump for that. But it’s over, at least for now. Democrats and Republicans need to fashion an acceptable way to get past the dead-enders in both parties so the government can function the way it’s designed to do.

The logical course of action would be to hold congressional hearings on border security, listen to the testimony of experts and then adopt a workable plan. 

Sounds easy, right?

It won’t be easy. If Trump won’t budge on his demand for $5.7 billion for border barriers, and Republicans in Congress continue to fear opposing him, there might be no resolution of the situation. 

But Democrats are burdened by their own baggage.

For one thing, well over a dozen Democratic members of Congress are thinking of running for president. They will be tempted to score points against Trump on many issues, right now especially on the border situation. Any appearance of compromise will cost them support from the vocal extremists within their party, and the news media will leap at the chance to publicize such divisions.

For another, many Democratic members of Congress, rank-and-file and leadership together, back in 2013 supported a “grand bargain” on immigration that included building hundreds of miles of border fencing as one of its components. It’s an inconvenient truth for Democrats who now dismiss any notion of compromise.

For another, over the past few decades, Democratic orthodoxy was to challenge immigration because it added workers to the labor force who were willing to accept low wages. Labor unions sometimes looked on immigrants as “scabs” who undercut the bargaining power of the union movement.

But to publicly confront immigrant families, whether poverty stricken or brutally oppressed, appears heartless. So Democrats have generally taken the more roundabout course of demanding prosecution of businesses that employ undocumented migrants. Shutting off employment opportunities discourages foreign nationals from entering the country.

There are several problems with that approach. 

One is that Democrats generally pride themselves on their humaneness. Intolerance toward undocumented employees causes pangs of guilt for many Democrats.

A second, maybe more potent, problem is the Democratic Party’s dream of adding millions of currently undocumented Latinos onto the party’s voting rolls through eventual citizenship. (Republicans fear exactly the same thing.)

Taking a hard stance against undocumented Latinos because they compete with working citizens could cost a Democratic officeholder or candidate the support of Latino citizens who already vote. 

So in some areas it’s a no-win situation for a Democratic candidate who’s simultaneously seeking the votes of working constituents, of humanitarian voters, and of Latinos who are already American citizens.

Officials on both sides have two weeks to cobble together some kind of immigration package that they, and the nation, can live with. Otherwise we’ll be faced with more government impotence and weeks or months of court cases challenging the president’s border actions. 

Nobody said democracy is easy.

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