February 11, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Dems Moving to Defund CPB/ICE

Forget the wall. The new fight is over "border security."

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I’m going to type a sentence that may be hard to believe, but it’s true. USA Today’s Jim Sergent reported the details late last week. Here is that hard-to-believe sentence: The fight over security on the US-Mexican border, the fight that shut down the federal government for 35 days and may shut it down again, is a fight over 100 miles.

Put another way: the president demands $5.7 billion in exchange for keeping the government open after Feb. 15, so his administration can build a 100-mile wall.

Go ahead. I’ll wait for you to read that again.

Still waiting. No worries!

Got it? OK, let’s move on.

Border-security funding will be used for other things. Donald Trump wants to rehab 115 miles of existing barriers. But in terms of new structures, we’re talking about 100 miles. In terms of a 2016 campaign promise, we’re talking about 100 miles. In terms of the president’s claim that a wall will stop drugs and murderers and rapists and all manner of criminal evil, we’re talking about a mere 100 miles of border wall.

Altogether, at the very most, the fight in Washington is one over 215 miles of new or existing barrier or fencing. The US-Mexican border is nearly 2,000 miles long.

Like I said, it’s hard to believe. Then again, this is the Trump administration. This is a place where magical thinking blooms. It’s beyond absurd, but it’s no less fitting that Trump is willing to kill off what remains of his presidency for a 100-mile trifling.

You could say the Democrats aren’t much better. Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the rest of the party leadership keep saying no to a trifling. Why not give the president his damn wall in exchange for Dreamer protections or something bigger, like immigration reform? It might be worth trading off a 100 miles for citizenship.

I might agree. The problem is the president is a prisoner. He cannot and will not bargain in good faith, because bargaining in good faith would elicit immediate backlash from a party conditioned to equate bargaining with surrender. Even if the Democrats were willing to trade a trifling for something of value, they can’t. There’s nothing they could offer that would not put Trump in jeopardy. So they don’t.

It really is as bad as this. Negotiations were going well last week, but broke down Sunday. The hang-up appears to be beds. Per Bloomberg: “Democrats are seeking a cap [on the number of beds] to force ICE to detain criminals rather than undocumented immigrants with no criminal history. Republicans are resisting a limit on grounds that criminals shouldn’t count toward it and ICE should have discretion.”

In any other time and place, Congressional Republicans would gladly sacrifice a few beds to achieve policy objectives. Increasingly, though, policy objectives aren’t the point for this Republican Party. The point is taking from the Democrats and never giving an inch. Maybe it’s time for Democrats to follow suit. I think they are.

The Democrats have been living up to an agreement they made with the Republicans in 2001. That agreement called for unconditional support for border security. This is why, though she denounces a wall, Pelosi agreed to $1.6 billion for increased personnel, technological upgrades, “Normandy fences”—for anything but a wall.

While border security was good politics in the years after Sept. 11, it has become a liability. For one thing, the Republicans refuse to recognize good faith. During the Obama years, they took and took, but never compromised with Obama. The former president deported more immigrants than all presidents combined, for nothing.

For another, border security is a task undertaken by fascists agents of the state. Border Patrol and ICE are using “security” dollars to violate human rights in the people’s name. Plus, it doesn’t work. We’re pouring billions into security when illegal immigration is tracking at all-time lows. As USA Today’s Jim Sergent reported: “Though the number of Border Patrol agents has more than doubled (9,212 to 19,437) since 2000, Border Patrol apprehensions are a quarter of what they were then.”

Like I said, the Democrats are heading in the right direction.

While the Republicans make a fetish of 100 miles of border wall, the Democrats are moving to reduce the impact of CPB and ICE by limiting their resources. The Republicans don’t like that, but so what? They can compromise or face public outcry over a Republican president who either shuts down the government again (bad) or who declares a national emergency in the absence of a real national emergency (worse).

US Rep. Ilhan Omar and others want more. “We’re asking that Congress cut, not increase, spending on detention facilities, stop using DHS as a slush fund, and include stronger accountability against DHS abuses under Donald Trump’s watch.”

The wall is indeed an immorality. So is separating kids from mothers, denying asylum to immigrants legally entitled to apply for it, and other forms of fascism. The Democrats are rethinking their commitment to the terms of the post-2001 bargain. And they are reframing the security debate while the Republicans play catch-up.

—John Stoehr

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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