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An Immigration Compromise That Just Might Work

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An Immigration Compromise That Just Might Work

The Wall Street Journal December 19, 2018
OtherImmigration

Trump gets his wall, the ‘Dreamers’ get to stay, and both parties go home happy for Christmas.

Bipartisan criminal-justice reform is all the rage this week, but the country would be much better served if Republicans and Democrats could find common ground on immigration. President Trump wants funding to erect more physical barriers along America’s border with Mexico, and Democrats would be smart to give it to him in exchange for an agreement to shield illegal immigrants brought here as children from deportation.

The Democratic opposition to additional walling is more situational than principled. The erection of barriers along major crossing points in California, Arizona and Texas was part of the Clinton administration’s border-enforcement efforts in the 1990s. In 2006 Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, which authorized funding for 700 miles of additional fencing. The vote in the Senate was 80-19, with plenty of support from Democrats, including Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Mr. Schumer and his caucus should spare us the theatrics. Besides, isn’t helping the nearly two million so-called Dreamers, who entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday, more important than denying the president his signature campaign promise out of spite?

Compromising on the wall also makes sense as a practical matter for Democrats, who will have a hard time winning support for more-expansive immigration policies if they can’t convince the public that border security is a priority for them. The hard-left likes of Kamala Harris and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may want the border between Mexico and the U.S. effectively erased, but most voters in both parties would rather it be fixed. Calls for more sanctuary cities and the abolition of immigration-enforcement agencies send exactly the wrong message. Border enforcement matters. Just ask Germany.

A wall would have some deterrent effect but probably not much, and critics are correct when they argue that there are better ways to spend border-enforcement dollars. Today, the majority of people who settle in the U.S. without authorization arrive legally and then overstay their visas. According to a Center for Migration Studies report last year, these “overstays” have outnumbered illegal entries every year for the past decade—a problem more fencing doesn’t address. Still, Bismarck was right: Politics is “the art of possible, the attainable,” and a wall may be what is necessary to advance immigration reform while Donald Trump is president, or even after he’s left office.

A national Bipartisan Policy Center survey on immigration released in July concluded that the “consensus set of immigration policies that Americans support is more to the right than many realize.” “Most Americans believe that the current system is broken, out of control, and antiquated,” reads the summary. “They don’t feel that anyone is controlling the process or supervising who enters the country legally, and they think that insecure borders make it easier for people to come to the United States illegally.”

Moreover, a larger percentage of survey respondents approved of a wall (48%) than disapproved (41%), which is consistent with other recent polling on the enforcement of immigration laws. A Quinnipiac University poll from April asked, “Do you think that undocumented immigrants illegally crossing the border with Mexico is an important problem, or not?” Seventy-one percent of respondents said yes.

Note that this was before the country witnessed mobs of Central American migrants rushing the border trying to force their way in. The bottom line is that a majority of voters have views on border security that are much closer to Mr. Trump’s than many liberals want to admit. The Democrats ignore these concerns at their own peril. Ask Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Trump said last week that if he doesn’t get his wall funding, he will shut down the government and take sole responsibility. That’s big of him, but more posturing is not what’s needed, and he shouldn’t overplay his hand. A majority of the country still views legal immigration as a net positive, and the BPC survey found that “jobs and wages were among the lowest-rated immigration concerns for voters.”

The president, along with White House advisers like Stephen Miller, have consistently argued that legal immigrants displace U.S. workers, and they’ve urged Congress to pass legislation that would cut legal immigration in half. Most economists would advise against that, as would most voters, apparently. The illegal population numbered 10.7 million in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, while the unemployment rate stands at 3.7%, a 49-year low. The bigger economic concern going forward isn’t too many workers but too few as millions of baby-boomers are ageing out of the labor force.

Extremists on the left and right will carp, but both Democrats and Republicans have something to gain from an immigration deal this year. And the president has a chance to accomplish something in his second year in office that his predecessor couldn’t accomplish in eight.

This piece originally appeared at The Wall Street Journal

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Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator. Follow him on Twitter here.

Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images

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