WASHINGTON – It’s time to build the wall — and, in doing so, prevent an estimated 690,000 DACA “dreamers” from being deported from the United States. It’s a fair deal that could be scuttled only by intense and self-serving partisanship from the White House and the Republican and Democratic congressional leadership.
As almost everyone knows by now, DACA stands for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” a program created in 2012 by U.S. President Barack Obama that President Donald Trump says he wants to undo. Because the beneficiaries were brought illegally to the United States as children by their parents, it’s hard to make a case that they should be punished. As a practical matter, most have grown up as Americans. They have few roots in their country of birth.
A deal seemed within reach after President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, agreed to negotiate. But now prospects seem to be fading, because the White House is insisting that building the border wall be part of the package — and Schumer and Pelosi say, no way. “This proposal fails to represent any attempt at compromise,” they said in a joint statement.
Actually, that’s not true.
If Trump is going to save the dreamers — repudiating a campaign promise that he would end the program — he needs something big in return. This could be the wall. Schumer and Pelosi’s notion of compromise is hardly any compromise at all. Their position is: Be reasonable, do it our way.
Full disclosure: I have been a supporter of the wall for some years, predating Trump’s presidential campaign. I justify this on three grounds.
First, I think it would reduce — though not eliminate — illegal immigration. It would be harder to cross the border; some wouldn’t try. Controlling our border is vital, even if, as the Pew Research Center estimates, there is now some net migration back to Mexico. This could change, and the gross flows in both directions remain large.
Second, the wall would symbolize a major shift in U.S. immigration policy — a tougher attitude — that would deter some from crossing the border illegally and, more important, justify legislation requiring employers to verify workers’ immigration status before being hired. If we were to increase border security but not require proof of legal status, much of the wall’s benefit would be lost. Workers would still come.
Finally, the wall is required as a political act of good faith to immigration opponents. They believe the wall would be effective, and the only way to prove — or disprove — these claims would be to try it. I know and respect many critics of the wall who believe it would be a waste of time and money. They could be right, and I could be wrong, but the only way to find out is to build it.
That’s my case for the wall. True, it would be costly. One common estimate is $25 billion. Still, even this amount is a rounding error in a $4 trillion federal budget. The price would be tiny if the result protects the “dreamers” and inspires real bargaining on many immigration issues: sanctuary cities, family preferences and a path to citizenship, among others.
Compromise involves giving up things you want and accepting things you don’t want for a result that, despite its defects, leaves you better off than when you started. In that sense, a grand compromise on immigration is conceivable. The open question is whether both sides are willing to compromise — and today’s agendas are simply negotiating positions — or whether they prefer endless political theater.
Robert J. Samuelson writes a weekly economics column for The Washington Post. © 2017, The Washington Post Writers Group