President Donald Trump is threatening to declare a national emergency as a pretext to use Pentagon funding to build a border wall. Democrats should pre-empt Trump by proposing their own solution to end the standoff in Washington.
They should propose a deal that puts the GOP on the spot. Rather than continuing with a debate about whether or not to build a wall, Democrats should shift the debate to different ground: they should propose spending more money to ensure a smarter, more efficient and more humane border policy.
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Democrats have already supported this agenda in the existing budget, but by offering to spend more for these measures they can highlight the false choice that the administration is giving voters. Democrats can seize the border issue away from the Republican Party, just as President Barack Obama took the national security advantage away from the GOP in 2008, without accepting their opponent's reactionary outlook on immigration. They can make the spotlight on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his fellow GOP senators even brighter, making it even harder for them to keep propping up Trump's presidential chaos.
The notion that Democrats don't care about border security is pure partisan fiction. This is, in fact, one area where there is a rare bipartisan consensus. Much to the chagrin of liberals in his own party, Obama was routinely criticized for being too reliant on deportations as he sought a grand compromise with the Republicans to liberalize immigration laws for those who were already in the country.
Although Democrats in 2019 are more supportive of the humane treatment of people trying to enter at our border, and reject the claim that there is some kind of crisis, mainstream Democrats believe that having a secure border is an essential part of national policy.
Given how badly the President has mishandled this situation, Democrats should take advantage of this moment to highlight to the public their own agenda for a better border security. As President Trump turns his proposed monument of cement or steel slabs into a litmus test of how politicians feel about the dividing lines between the US and Mexico, Democrats can demonstrate that this is simply disinformation.
Democrats should now be putting pressure on congressional Republicans to vote for an improved border policy rather than vice versa. Instead of wasting $5.7 billion for a wall, Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Charles Schumer should show the way to a better option.
In making a proposal for more border security money, the Democrats have already supported increased funding for border security. They now have a chance to make their priorities clear in three areas. First, federal dollars should be used to hire more US Customs and Border Protection workers. From spending on border agents to paying for more civil servants to process asylum claims, government dollars can be used to boost the human power that is available to protect against illegal entries and also to deal in humane fashion with people who are desperately trying to enter.
The Democrats should also propose that more money be used for technology. Given that most of the heroin entering through the border comes in at legal points of entry, the best use of money is not a wall but better equipment that is capable of detecting what is being carried into the country.
At the same time, better technology can also be used to deal with two major avenues drug dealers have been using to bring their product into the country (neither of which will be stopped by a wall): tunnels and drones. The additional benefits that will come from companies who work on this technology could also be significant, as the computer industry learned from federal investments in technology during the Cold War.
Finally, real border security must involve providing money for drug treatment and rehabilitation here in the United States, as well as working with Mexico to stabilize neighboring cities. If one of the major concerns from the administration has to do with drug trafficking, then it's time for Democrats to make clear that, without tackling the demand side, the problem will never go away. At the same time, border security needs to provide some kind of aid package to help Mexico improve safety in the violent border towns that are often the places from which people are fleeing. If the United States and Mexico can work together to make those areas more livable, then any demand from the other side of the border will diminish as well.
In addition to the immediate crisis, supporting a smarter border policy will help Democrats strengthen their public standing to move forward with key priorities that are being ignored: the inhumane treatment of children caught at their borders, the paralyzed state of millions of people who are already here and live in limbo, the ramped up rate of deportation, and the unacceptable methods used by ICE in finding and detaining individuals.
If President Trump agrees to reopen the government and uses emergency power to fund a wall, Democrats must challenge his authority to do so.
Under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, Congress can vote to override a president who invokes this authority. They can't sit by and allow him to use this authority based on a manufactured crisis.
Good border security does not mean building a big wall. Indeed, just the opposite. President Trump, who has a long history of making poor investments during his business career, is not only being irresponsible in his use of presidential power -- he is also promoting bad policies. Right now, Democrats should put another pot of money on the table to make this clear, and give wavering Republicans something they can latch on to as a way out of the unnecessary and dangerous crisis that the President has created for the country.