A case for build­ing a wall: It helps let dream­ers stay

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - OPINION - Robert Sa­muel­son

It’s time to build the wall — and, in do­ing so, pre­vent an es­ti­mated 690,000 DACA “dream­ers” from be­ing de­ported from the United States. It’s a fair deal that could be scut­tled only by in­tense and self-serv­ing par­ti­san­ship from the White House and the Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic con­gres­sional lead­er­ship.

As al­most ev­ery­one knows by now, DACA stands for “De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals,” a pro­gram cre­ated in 2012 by Pres­i­dent Obama that Pres­i­dent Trump says he wants to undo. Be­cause the ben­e­fi­cia­ries were brought il­le­gally to the United States as chil­dren by their par­ents, it’s hard to make a case that they should be pun­ished. As a prac­ti­cal mat­ter, most have grown up as Amer­i­cans. They have few roots in their coun­try of birth.

A deal seemed within reach after Pres­i­dent Trump and Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., agreed to ne­go­ti­ate.

But now prospects seem to be fad­ing, be­cause the White House is in­sist­ing that build­ing the bor­der wall be part of the pack­age — and Schumer and Pelosi say, no way.

“This pro­posal fails to rep­re­sent any at­tempt at com­pro­mise,” they said in a joint state­ment. Ac­tu­ally, that’s not true. If Trump is going to save the dream­ers — re­pu­di­at­ing a cam­paign prom­ise that he would end the pro­gram — he needs some­thing big in re­turn. This could be the wall. Schumer and Pelosi’s no­tion of com­pro­mise is hardly any com­pro­mise at all. Their po­si­tion is: Be rea­son­able, do it our way.

Full dis­clo­sure: I have been a sup­porter of the wall for some years, pre­dat­ing Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. I jus­tify this on three grounds.

First, I think it would re­duce — though not elim­i­nate — il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. It would be harder to cross the bor­der; some wouldn’t try.

Con­trol­ling our bor­der is vi­tal, even if, as the Pew Re­search Cen­ter es­ti­mates, there is now some net mi­gra­tion back to Mex­ico. This could change, and the gross flows in both di­rec­tions re­main large.

Sec­ond, the wall would sym­bol­ize a ma­jor shift in U.S. im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy — a tougher at­ti­tude — that would de­ter some from cross­ing the bor­der il­le­gally and, more im­por­tant, jus­tify leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing em­ploy­ers to ver­ify work­ers’ im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus be­fore be­ing hired. If we were to in­crease bor­der se­cu­rity but not re­quire proof of le­gal sta­tus, much of the wall’s ben­e­fit would be lost. Work­ers would still come.

Fi­nally, the wall is re­quired as a po­lit­i­cal act of good faith to im­mi­gra­tion op­po­nents.

They be­lieve the wall would be ef­fec­tive, and the only way to prove — or dis­prove — these claims would be to try it. I know and re­spect many crit­ics of the wall who be­lieve it would be a waste of time and money.

They could be right, and I could be wrong, but the only way to find out is to build it.

That’s my case for the wall. True, it would be costly. One com­mon es­ti­mate is $25 bil­lion. Still, even this amount is a round­ing er­ror in a $4 tril­lion fed­eral bud­get.

The price would be tiny if the re­sult pro­tects the “dream­ers” and in­spires real bar­gain­ing on many im­mi­gra­tion is­sues: sanc­tu­ary cities, fam­ily pref­er­ences, and a path to cit­i­zen­ship, among oth­ers.

Com­pro­mise in­volves giv­ing up things you want and ac­cept­ing things you don’t want for a re­sult that, de­spite its de­fects, leaves you bet­ter off than when you started.

In that sense, a grand com­pro­mise on im­mi­gra­tion is con­ceiv­able. The open ques­tion is whether both sides are will­ing to com­pro­mise — and to­day’s agen­das are sim­ply ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tions — or whether they pre­fer end­less po­lit­i­cal the­ater.

Robert Sa­muel­son Colum­nist

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