Shutdown at the D.C. corral

Graphic by EJ Chong | Mercury Staff.


During the Trump presidency, Americans have seen many records broken. We’ve broken all sorts of stock market records. No president has had more federal judicial appointments than President Trump at this point in his presidency. Now, we’ve had the longest government shutdown. However, the term “government shutdown” is a purely bureaucratic term. What has occurred at the southern border of the U.S. every day for the last 30 years has proven that even when the government has been open, immigration laws have been negligently enforced, and that shutting down the government over them was necessary.

The best strategy Democrats have come up with as an explanation for why we were in crisis mode is that government workers were missing their paychecks. Of course, this narrative does not explain why we were not in enough of a crisis to keep the congressional Democrats in Washington, D.C. to negotiate with President Trump, instead of hanging out with Lin Manuel Miranda in Puerto Rico.

It is ironic that congressional Democrats want us to feel bad about non-contractor government workers missing one or two paychecks for which they are guaranteed back pay, especially since some of these same government workers are responsible for crafting policies which have led to an uncompetitive, overregulated job market in the United States which has lowered private sector wages and benefits. If those who worked in manufacturing and mining got that sweet of a deal, Donald Trump could never have been elected in the first place.   

Light joking at the expense of our nation’s bureaucrats aside, it would be disingenuous to not touch on the original reason for the shutdown, since there has been scant progress on funding a new wall, a signature promise of Donald Trump’s campaign.

Apart from being a signature Trump promise, building more walls and fences along the southern border is also a tried and true idea. A blend of a border wall and laws targeting immigrants have decreased illegal immigration into Israel by over 99 percent, according to statistics published by the country’s Ministry of the Interior. It was a good idea when Donald Trump walked down the escalator in Trump Tower and it was a good idea in 2006 when almost every prominent Senate Democrat, including then-Sen. Barack Obama, who now bellyache about Trump building more physical barriers, voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act, which proposed the construction of 700 miles of border fencing as well as additional checkpoints, lighting and expansion of newer technology such as cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles.

In a country where the federal budget is over $4 trillion, according to the White House’s budget for fiscal year 2019, the money Trump is requesting is $5.7 billion dollars for a border wall, about 0.13 percent of the federal budget. An impasse over this miniscule amount of money is why government workers were not being paid. Congressional Democrats haveshown their true priorities aren’t to keep federal employees paid, but to prevent a border wall from being funded. After all, Sen. Chuck Schumer shut down the government a year ago because Senate Democrats wanted an immigration amnesty deal that did not include a border wall, which itself is a reversal of his positions when he voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and the bipartisan Gang of Eight deal backed by the Obama administration that passed through the Senate but failed to advance through the House.

While approximately half of illegal immigrants are estimated to be overstaying their visas, according to data from the Center for Migration Studies, the real problems of illegal immigration occur at our southern border. Meaningful reform to visa overstays would require reform of the legal immigration system. Therefore, if we want to stop the actual horrors of illegal immigration, which happen to the migrants themselves, border patrol agents and citizens in any country illegal immigrants pass through, we need to focus on deterring entry at our southern border. Smugglers can make thousands of dollars for each individual smuggled across the border, according to figures cited by a Homeland Security official in a report from The Washington Post.

Our border is a very dangerous place for those who help enforce our immigration laws as well. While we have yet to build a wall of stone, metal or bollard, we have already committed to a “wall” of people — the 16,000 or so border patrol agents that work on the southwest border, playing the world’s most dangerous game of red rover. Yet, the border patrol seems to be the only government workers for whom the congressional Democrats have not even an iota of sympathy. A wall would make their jobs a lot easier and safer. Though the shutdown is over — at least for the next three weeks — it will hopefully not be Donald Trump’s last attempt to build a wall. As he’s stated before, he can always cross the Rubicon and declare a national emergency. I can’t think of any logical reason why what happens on our border would not qualify.

This shutdown, the longest in American history, has certainly been inconvenient for the Beltway. The message of those relatively privileged government workers was dutifully broadcasted everyday by traditional media, celebrity activists and social media. Our government could have been shut down for far longer before it even approached the level of damage and dysfunction that our inability to practically enforce our immigration policies has done to us, Mexico, our Central American neighbors and illegal and legal migrants from any of those countries. A wall is not a perfect public policy solution — no solution is — but it is unique among immigration enforcement measures in that it is really only meant to stop those who have not yet violated our laws, instead of those who already have.


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