End the shutdown and secure a future for the Dreamers

Despite President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE’s hyperbole about the need for a big new wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, the cold, hard data tells us there is no true border crisis. But there could be an opportunity for political compromise on the fate of the 1.8 million “Dreamers” living in the United States. 

On its own merits, the wall fails any test of public necessity. First, there is no emergency at the U.S. southern border. Apprehensions at the border — a proxy for the inflow of people trying to enter the United States illegally — have actually fallen to their lowest levels in decades.

ADVERTISEMENT

As a result, the illegal immigrant population living in the United States has been slowly shrinking in the past decade, from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007 to the most recent estimate of 10.7 million in 2016. 

Net migration from Mexico has turned negative in recent years. According to the Migration Policy Institute, “More Mexican immigrants have returned to Mexico than have migrated to the United States, and apprehensions of Mexicans at the U.S.-Mexico border are at a 40-year low.” This makes the president’s demand that Mexico pay for the wall downright silly.

Nor is there an emergency threat from terrorists or criminals crossing the southern border illegally. As Fox News anchor Chris Wallace highlighted over the weekend in his interview with Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, the U.S. State Department has determined that there is no credible evidence of any terrorists having entered the United States across our southern land border.

Numerous studies show that immigrants, both legal and illegal, are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

Even if some kind of emergency did exist at the southern border, a wall would not be the right response. More than half of recent illegal immigrants did not cross the border illegally, but instead arrived through legal channels and then overstayed their visas. A wall would do nothing to keep them out.

A wall is also impractical along the huge stretch of the border represented by the Rio Grande river between Texas and Mexico. Constructing a wall along the river would damage the environment and run roughshod over the rights of Americans who own adjacent land.

Using the military to impose a version of eminent domain, as the president proposes, would be a double offense to our liberties.

Even if it could work, building a wall would take time. It’s a running joke how long government construction projects take. A steel or concrete wall would be less complicated than a metro line extension or a new FBI headquarters, but it’s ludicrous to think that approving $5 billion for a wall would have a measurable impact on the inflow of illegal immigrants within weeks or even months.

If there were a real crisis at the border, other steps such as dramatically increasing personnel, drones and other sensors would make more sense. This kind of softer infrastructure can be employed much more rapidly.

As politically thorny as the issue has been, there may be room for a compromise to break the current deadlock. The White House and Congress could cut a deal to fund a more flexible approach to border security in exchange for the permanent legalization of the 1.8 million Dreamers — young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally when they were still minors who now seek permanent status.

President Trump himself said early in his term that he wanted to work with Congress to legalize the Dreamers. The matter has urgency because President Obama’s executive order on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) offered only temporary protection for about 700,000 Dreamers, but the program has been terminated by the Trump administration and court stays to keep DACA up and running are under challenge. 

DACA-eligible immigrants are a sure bet to prosper in America and contribute to our economy and society. By definition, they have finished high school and are in the workforce or college. They’ve passed criminal and security background checks. They are fluent in English and “Americanized” in every sense. America is the only country many of them know. 

Back in February 2018, Senate Democrats were ready to vote for billions of dollars for a wall as part of a compromise to legalize the Dreamers.

With the shutdown now into its third week, the time has come to pay the ransom of a few billion dollars for border security to bring these much needed workers and future citizens permanently into the fold of American life.

Daniel Griswold is a senior research fellow and co-director of the trade and immigration project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.