(With a bow in the direction of Steve Schmidt, the former campaign manager for Senator John McCain’s presidential bid, for the title.)
Last night the president gave a speech to the nation about the alleged crisis on our southern border. Lots of figures and statistics continue to be thrown around to support the president’s desire to build a wall. Most are misleading or purposely distorted in order to support his campaign pledge. Whether you support the wall or not, here are the facts provided by Mr. Trump’s own administration and other independent sources. We can disagree on the best way to provide border security, but it should be a fact based discussion. With the emotion removed it becomes a different situation.
- Mexico will not pay for the wall. Claims that the new U.S., Mexico, Canada trade agreement (NAFTA by any other name with a few improvements) will result in Mexico “essentially” paying for it is false. Whether or not the new agreement changes the balance of trade between the U.S. and Mexico, that money does not go into the U.S. Treasury. And the U.S. Senate has yet to take up the new agreement so it is not in force. No time-table for ratification is set.
- 800,000 American federal workers are out of a pay check come Friday. There are hundreds of thousands of more American workers without pay checks that support the Federal government or that provide services to the government that are without pay checks and will not get back pay.
- Claims that the number of migrants crossing the border are unprecedented are wrong. According to the U.S. Border Patrol, there were 303,916 apprehensions at the border in 2017. That is the lowest in 45 years. In 2018 there were 396,579. A slight increase, but significantly lower than the 1.6 million apprehended in 2000.
- The southern border is not the primary way that undocumented immigrants enter the country. According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2017, 606,926 people were in the country illegally by over staying their visas. That is roughly twice the number from the southern border. 101,281 of those who did not leave when their visa expired were from Canada.
- According to the U.S. State Department, “there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”
- According to the U.S. government, in 2017, 2,554 official encounters in the U.S. occurred with people on the terrorist watch list (which does not mean they are terrorists as it is often a case of mismatched names or other glitches). Of those, 2,170 attempted to enter through airports. NBC news reports, based on a DHS report to Congress, that the “roughly 4,000” terrorists cited by Trump Administration officials that were stopped were from around the world, not at the southern border. This includes stopping some before they get on an airplane overseas. Again this refers to people on the watch list, not necessarily actual terrorists. In the first half of 2018 exactly six immigrants were stopped at the southern border for being on the list. In the same time frame, forty-one were stopped at the Canadian border.
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel deported 5,872 suspected gang members in 2018. ICE does not break down which gangs these people belong to so it is impossible to know how many belong to MS-13. Additionally, some of those in the mix that were deported were not actually members of gangs. It is likely that the number of MS-13 gang-bangers arrested by ICE is in the hundreds. The total number of gang members deported in 2018 is less than one percent of those entering legally and then staying in the country illegally.
- Any murder or rape is a tragedy. Keep in mind that statistics consistently show that immigrants — legal or illegal — are far less likely to break the law than those born in the United States.
- According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) about 90% of the heroin entering the U.S. comes through Mexico. Frankly, no one knows exactly how much enters the country each year. However, DEA reports that the very large majority of it comes through legal ports of entry by land, sea and air.
- The vast majority of non-U.S. citizens attempting to enter the U.S. do so at legal ports of entry. Under U.S. and international law, those seeking asylum must be taken at their word that they are in danger of their lives, or persecution in their native lands until a hearing is held to adjudicate their claim. Not everyone crossing the southern border seeking asylum is granted it. Current administrative processes at the border result in extremely long wait times (it could be months) to enter through a port of entry. This induces desperate people to try to cross illegally and then to turn themselves in to authorities. This happens quite often and in peaceful ways. Whether the individuals entered legally or illegally, if they ask for asylum, under the law, they must be heard.
Here is my opinion.
What is really at stake is Article I of the Constitution. In what is known as the “vesting”clause, all legislative authority is given to the Congress, including appropriations and authorizations to spend money. Note that it comes before Article II that gives executive power to the president. Article III creates the judiciary.
In his first two years, Mr. Trump did not have a Congress that would put a check on his whims, desires and plans. Now he does with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives. On their part, the House is exercising their Constitutional power of the purse to establish that they are a co-equal branch of government and do not have to give in to the president on every issue. Frankly, it is about time. Missing in action is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) who got burned by the president’s promises in December and refuses to get involved to end the shutdown. It is likely that in short order (a few days to a week) Republican Senators will start to come over to the Democrat’s plan and Mr. McConnell will have to bring the Democrats’ bills to the floor to again pass what they already did just before Christmas.
Remember that the bills passed by the House last week are exactly the same as those already passed by the Republican controlled Senate. Because a new Congress was installed last week, all bills not passed by both Houses need to start over.
The government shutdown over the wall has nothing to do with border security. All sober government officials, Republican or Democrat, support border security. They differ on how our money and resources should be spent to protect and regulate the border.
The wall is a political stunt. The president backed himself into a corner and when a bipartisan deal was presented to him (including the bill passed in the Senate just before Christmas), after agreeing to it, he caved to right-wing pundits and proudly proclaimed that he would own the shutdown. That he and many of his advisers did not understand that when a shutdown goes into effect it means the government shuts down, hurting countless thousands of people across the country, is a story for another day.
It appears that there are three ways this situation can be resolved. Mr. Trump caves. The House and Senate get together and pass veto proof bills to fund the government. Finally, Mr. Trump may follow through on his threat to declare a National Emergency, mobilize the military and use Department of Defense funds to build his wall. This last move is that of an autocrat. It is Despot 101. Create a threat where one doesn’t exist, declare an emergency, mobilize the military, bypass the democratically elected legislature and take steps to curtail any opposition.
And all of it is based on a big lie. I cannot think of a more dangerous scenario.