Wall debate is over politics, not policy

Davis Delich, Staff Columnist

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Amidst the soon-to-be longest government shutdown in  United States history, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week, “…a wall is an immorality. It’s not who we are as a nation.” Well, to be clear, it is “who we are” as nation, because there are already about 700 miles of fencing at the southern border. While there may be qualitative differences between what exists currently and the wall that Trump and his colleagues propose, it’s not clear how those physical differences confer some sort of morality or immorality.

Furthermore, note the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which authorized much of the current pedestrian and vehicle barriers at the border, was passed with broad bipartisan support. Senators Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were among the 25 Democrats in the Senate who ultimately voted for this legislation.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Obama said of the bill, “It will authorize some badly needed funding for better fences and better security along our borders, and that should help stem some of the tide of illegal immigration in this country.” Rightly so, Obama followed up this statement by highlighting the shortcomings of the bill, including its failure to find a humane solution for the some 11 million undocumented immigrants that live and work in this country. This latter fact is important, but it is mostly irrelevant to the current budget impasse; the fact of the matter is, Democrats do not object to border fencing on moral grounds.

Of course, Trump’s insistence on constructing a border wall is driven by something more than the supposed crisis at the border. Illegal border entries, best measured by Border Patrol arrests, are at relatively low levels. In 2000, there were roughly 1.64 million arrests at the border. In fiscal year 2018, that number was just under 400,000. These figures discredit the notion that there is a surge in border crossings, which perhaps explains Trump’s pivot toward describing the current situation as a humanitarian crisis, as he did in his Oval Office address this past Tuesday. To this end, Trump cited the alarming rate at which women are sexually assaulted in their journey across the border and the rising number of children that are making the perilous trek. While the statistics he referenced may be true as they are disturbing, again, it’s unlikely he is compelled to force a shutdown on account of their plight. His campaign rhetoric and handling of the family separation crisis this summer would seem to suggest this.

By now, it should be obvious that the shutdown is not an over-substantive disagreement, but rather divergent political objectives. Trump famously campaigned on his promise to build a wall, and his political well-being rests on its construction. Likewise, Democrats were elected with a mandate to oppose Trump in any way possible. As Marc Thiessen pointed out in the Washington Post, the difference in border security funding between Trump’s request and the Democrats’ standing offer accounts for less than 0.1% of the federal budget. Appropriations bills are known to sneeze out $5 billion. While their political goals are straightforward, it’s not so clear whether either side of aisle stands to benefit from an unpopular shutdown battle.

Jesus Christ was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane when Judas Iscariot publicly disclosed his identity to the High Priest Caiaphas and his soldiers. In a rash attempt to protect Jesus, the apostle Peter raised his sword and struck the priest’s servant in the ear, almost certainly with the intention to deal a lethal blow. Though the context may differ in many respects, Jesus’ admonition of Peter offers sage wisdom to the President, and perhaps his Congressional opponents, as we plunge further into the shutdown. “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52, ESV)