PRES­I­DENT DON­ALD TRUMP BOXED IN BY BOR­DER WALL CALL

The Sun News (Sunday) - - Local & Sports - BY JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS AND PE­TER BAKER

Be­fore it be­came the chief stick­ing point in a gov­ern­ment shut­down drama that threat­ens to con­sume his pres­i­dency at a crit­i­cal mo­ment, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s prom­ise to build a wall on the South­west­ern bor­der was a mem­ory trick for an undis­ci­plined can­di­date.

As Trump be­gan ex­plor­ing a pres­i­den­tial run in 2014, his po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers landed on the idea of a bor­der wall as a mnemonic de­vice of sorts, a way to make sure their can­di­date – who hated read­ing from a script but loved boast­ing about him­self and his tal­ents as a builder – would re­mem­ber to talk about get­ting tough on im­mi­gra­tion, which was to be a sig­na­ture is­sue in his nascent cam­paign.

“How do we get him to con­tinue to talk about im­mi­gra­tion?” Sam Nun­berg, one of Trump’s early po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers, re­called telling Roger J. Stone Jr., an­other ad­viser. “We’re go­ing to get him to talk about he’s go­ing to build a wall.”

Talk Trump did, and the line drew rap­tur­ous cheers from con­ser­va­tive au­di­ences, thrilling the can­di­date and soon be­com­ing a sta­ple of cam­paign speeches. Chants of “Build the wall!” echoed through are­nas through­out the coun­try.

Now, Trump’s fix­a­tion with a bor­der wall – the ma­te­rial em­bod­i­ment of his keep-them-out im­mi­gra­tion agenda – has run head­long into the new re­al­i­ties of di­vided gov­ern­ment, pit­ting him against Democrats who re­ject the idea out of hand. The im­passe is par­tic­u­larly re­mark­able given that even some im­mi­gra­tion hard-lin­ers do not re­gard the wall as their high­est pri­or­ity and fear that Trump’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with it will prompt him to cut a deal that trades a rel­a­tively in­ef­fec­tual mea­sure for ma­jor con­ces­sions on im­mi­gra­tion.

“I’ve al­ways thought it cre­ated a dan­ger that he would trade al­most any­thing in or­der to get the wall – I think that’s still a po­ten­tial dan­ger,” said Mark Kriko­rian, the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, a group that ar­gues for less im­mi­gra­tion. “I’m still wor­ried about that now.”

That fear has been re­al­ized at times when Trump has ex­plored a deal with Democrats on grant­ing per­ma­nent le­gal sta­tus for im­mi­grants brought to the United States il­le­gally as chil­dren, known as “Dream­ers.” The pres­i­dent has al­ways walked away at the last mo­ment from com­mit­ting to pre­serv­ing the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram, known as DACA, but on Fri­day, FAIR, an anti-im­mi­gra­tion group, warned him again that it would be a mis­take.

To many con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists who have pressed for decades for sharp re­duc­tions in both il­le­gal and le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, a phys­i­cal bar­rier on the bor­der with Mex­ico is barely rel­e­vant, lit­tle more than a foot­note to a long list of pol­icy changes they be­lieve are needed to fix a bro­ken sys­tem.

The dis­con­nect is at the heart of the dilemma fac­ing Trump as he labors to find a way out of an im­passe that has shut­tered large parts of the gov­ern­ment and cost 800,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees their pay. Hav­ing spent more than four years – first as a can­di­date and then as pres­i­dent – whip­ping his core sup­port­ers into a frenzy over the idea of build­ing a bor­der wall, Trump finds him­self in a po­lit­i­cal box of his own mak­ing.

In trans­form­ing the wall into a pow­er­ful em­blem of his anti-im­mi­gra­tion mes­sage, Trump has made the pro­posal po­lit­i­cally un­touch­able for Democrats, who have stead­fastly re­fused to fund it, com­pli­cat­ing the chances of any com­pro­mise.

“As a mes­sag­ing strat­egy, it was pretty suc­cess­ful,” Kriko­rian said. “The prob­lem is, you got elected; now what do you do? Hav­ing made it his sig­na­ture is­sue, Trump handed the Democrats a weapon against him.”

The dy­namic has been on vivid dis­play this past week as Trump has ar­gued that there can be no deal to re­open the gov­ern­ment un­less his wall is paid for, while Democrats, now in con­trol of the House, have re­fused in ever sharper terms.

OUT­SIZE SYM­BOL

“A wall is an im­moral­ity – it’s not who we are as a na­tion,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thurs­day. “This is not a wall be­tween Mex­ico and the United States that the pres­i­dent is cre­at­ing here; it’s a wall be­tween re­al­ity and his con­stituents, his sup­port­ers.”

Last month, in pri­vate com­ments to Demo­cratic law­mak­ers af­ter an Oval Of­fice con­fronta­tion with Trump, Pelosi said the wall was “like a man­hood thing for him.”

Yet it has also be­come an out­size sym­bol in the other di­rec­tion for Democrats, many of whom sup­ported at least some sort of bar­rier along the bor­der in the past but now cast Trump’s wall as a trav­esty. Sixty-four Democrats in the House and 26 in the Se­nate voted in 2006 for the Se­cure Fence Act, which pro­vided for hun­dreds of miles of fenc­ing along the bor­der. Among them were Sens. Barack Obama, Hil­lary Clin­ton, Joe Bi­den and Chuck Schumer.

“The only things that have changed is the sit­u­a­tion at the bor­der is worse and Don­ald Trump got elected,” said Kellyanne Con­way, the pres­i­dent’s coun­selor.

Be­yond the sym­bol­ism, Democrats now ar­gue that a wall is an ex­pen­sive and in­ef­fec­tive means of curb­ing il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. The ma­jor­ity of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants are peo­ple who over­stay visas, not peo­ple who sneak across the bor­der. A re­port re­leased in March by Democrats on the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee found that Bor­der Pa­trol agents on the front lines said they needed more tech­nol­ogy and ad­di­tional per­son­nel to curb il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and drug traf­fic, with less than one-half of 1 per­cent men­tion­ing a wall.

Schumer, now the Se­nate Demo­cratic leader, has in­sisted for two years that any spend­ing agree­ments con­tain lan­guage bar­ring fed­eral money for Trump’s wall. Repub­li­can lead­ers went along each time, even as the pres­i­dent be­came in­creas­ingly irate, once com­ing close to ve­to­ing a spend­ing pack­age on the day of the White House sign­ing cer­e­mony.

While most Repub­li­cans refuse to say so pub­licly for fear of angering Trump, many share the view that the wall is only a piece – and nowhere near the most im­por­tant one – of a broader set of ac­tions needed to over­haul the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem, in­clud­ing cuts to le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, tighter stan­dards for grant­ing asy­lum and bet­ter en­force­ment.

CHAINED TO A WALL

Num­bers USA, a con­ser­va­tive group that presses for stricter im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies, cir­cu­lated an ar­ti­cle last month sug­gest­ing that Trump drop his wall de­mand in fa­vor of a plan to man­date that all em­ploy­ers use E-Ver­ify, an elec­tronic sys­tem that checks im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus for prospec­tive em­ploy­ees.

The wall “has sucked po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal from the pur­suit of other, and ar­guably bet­ter, means to de­ter il­le­gal im­mi­grants,” wrote Heather Mac Don­ald of the Man­hat­tan In­sti­tute.

Yet Trump has teth­ered him­self to the wall and shows no sign of let­ting go.

Ann Coul­ter, who along with Rush Lim­baugh, Matt Drudge and other con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tors has pressed Trump to live up to his cam­paign prom­ise, said the fo­cus on the wall was not to be to the ex­clu­sion of other poli­cies aimed at stem­ming il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

“We want that stuff, too – but we also want a wall,” Coul­ter said in an email. “The chant at ev­ery cam­paign rally wasn’t, ‘En­force E-Ver­ify!’ ‘Tax re­mit­tances!’ ” she added.

DOUG MILLS NYT

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ar­rives to view bor­der wall pro­to­types in San Diego on March 13. The wall has be­come the cen­tral pri­or­ity of the Trump pres­i­dency, even as some im­mi­gra­tion hard-lin­ers have backed away from say­ing it’s a top goal.

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