Democrats can win, too, by giv­ing Trump his wall

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY RAMESH PONNURU Ramesh Ponnuru is se­nior editor of Na­tional Re­view mag­a­zine.

Our ar­gu­ments over a wall at the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der en­cap­su­late much of what’s wrong with Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. The wall has be­come a much larger is­sue than it de­serves to be, and the par­ties have been un­able to make a deal over it that ought to be easy to make.

The de­bate is over­wrought on both sides. It was a mis­take for im­mi­gra­tion hawks to be­come as fix­ated as they have on build­ing a wall on the south­ern bor­der. Even if it is com­pletely suc­cess­ful in stop­ping il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings, it won’t stop peo­ple from com­ing here legally and then over­stay­ing their visas. Es­ti­mates of the frac­tion of il­le­gal im­mi­grants who get here that way range from two-fifths to two-thirds.

Re­quir­ing em­ploy­ers to use E-Ver­ify to make sure that all new hires are legally al­lowed to work in the U.S., on the other hand, would re­duce the in­cen­tive for both il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings and il­le­gal over­stays. The ra­tio­nale for a wall would shrink.

But while the wall seems like a fool­ish pri­or­ity, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has made it one of his most po­lit­i­cally im­por­tant ini­tia­tives. He has talked about it so much that his re-elec­tion re­ally may de­pend on show­ing some re­sults. Those con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans who roll their eyes about the wall may be un­der­es­ti­mat­ing how much it now mat­ters to their party. Whether they like it or not, their po­lit­i­cal for­tunes in 2020 are closely tied to his.

Given its po­lit­i­cal im­por­tance to them, you’d think that Repub­li­cans would be ea­ger to get a bill passed that funds con­struc­tion of the wall. The ob­vi­ous path for pass­ing a bill is not, as the pres­i­dent has once again sug­gested, shut­ting down the gov­ern­ment un­til Democrats give it to him. It’s cut­ting a deal with the Democrats that achieves im­por­tant pri­or­i­ties of theirs and funds the wall.

Could the Democrats ac­cept such a deal? Their ar­gu­ments against a wall are not strong. The chief lib­eral ob­jec­tions, as far as I can tell, are that the wall would be ugly sym­bol­ism and waste­ful spend­ing. That sec­ond point rep­re­sents a con­cern about the bud­get so se­lec­tive as to raise doubts about whether it is truly mo­ti­vat­ing much of the op­po­si­tion.

Democrats have much stronger in­ter­ests in other as­pects of im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy than in block­ing the wall. Get­ting per­ma­nent le­gal sta­tus for il­le­gal im­mi­grants who came here as chil­dren, for ex­am­ple, ought to be higher on any ra­tio­nal list of pri- ori­ties. Trump has no ob­jec­tion to giv­ing them that sta­tus: He claims to be for it him­self.

So you can see the out­line of a deal that com­bines wall fund­ing and le­gal sta­tus for this par­tic­u­larly sym­pa­thetic sub­set of il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Each party would have got­ten some­thing that mat­ters a lot to it – the le­gal sta­tus for the Democrats, the wall fund­ing for the Repub­li­cans – while do­ing no dam­age to any of its im­por­tant pol­icy in­ter­ests.

Democrats would have to swal­low let­ting Trump have a po­lit­i­cal vic­tory, but they would have one of their own as well and would con­tinue to have many other cud­gels with which to hit him in 2020.

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