On Tuesday, President Trump met with 25 Congressional leaders -16 senators and nine representatives- including 15 Republicans and 10 Democrats. The meeting centered around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as well as other immigration issues such as the diversity visa lottery program, chain migration, and the border wall.
The bipartisan meeting is significant for several reasons. First, it shows willingness from Trump to negotiate with Democratic leaders after several headlines openly questioned his mental health. He initially responded in the most Trumpian way possible, bragging about his mental stability and intelligence:
The crusade of attacks on President Trump’s mental health were ludicrous, as were the suggestions of invoking the 25th Amendment. Despite the childish Twitter rampage from Trump, his desire to reach a compromise on immigration reform undoubtedly quelled the controversy regarding his mental stability.
Secondly, the clear discomfort that many elected Democrats have with simply securing the border was on full display. Not only are they ardently opposed to appropriating funds for the wall, ending chain migration and the grotesque diversity visa lottery program seems to be off the table as well. President Trump expressed his desire to re-enshrine DACA, so long as the other Republican demands are met.
This leads to the final takeaway, which is that Republicans can’t capitulate to Democrats on immigration, as they so often do with other policy issues. It’s time to finally address the disastrous immigration failures that have plagued the U.S. for decades. This means not succumbing to the tired language of passing a “bill of love” with regard to DACA, expecting that Democrats will agree to any meaningful border security and broader immigration reform. It was utterly asinine for Trump to indicate that he would sign whatever immigration bill is passed by Congress. For a man who brags incessantly about his understanding of the “Art of the Deal,” this was a weak surrender that would contradict his number one campaign promise.
There’s a reason why Trump’s strong stance on immigration resonated with so many people, and likely won him the Republican primary. Most Republicans have soft-peddled the severity of our immigration policy, so his hard line approach was refreshing for countless Americans. However, Trump’s incoherence could end up being a massive barrier -no pun intended- to much needed border security and a complete overhaul of our immigration system.
The obscenity of our immigration policy can’t be overstated, and neither can the harsh consequences of these policy failures. According to a Department of Homeland Security report, one in five federal inmates are foreign-born, with 92 percent being in the United States illegally. A study from the United States Sentencing Commission found that non-citizens accounted for 41.7 percent of felony and Class A misdemeanor offenders. A report from the Center for Immigration Studies analyzing data from 2011-2016 found that 21 percent of all non-immigration crimes were committed by non-citizens, including 42.4 percent of kidnappings, 31.5 percent of drug convictions, 22.9 percent of money laundering convictions, and 8.9 percent of homicides. All of this from a demographic that represents a mere 8.4 percent of the U.S. population.
Moreover, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Agency (ICE) released 19,723 criminal illegal immigrants in 2015. Of these, 208 were convicted of murder and more than 900 were convicted of sex crimes. It’s a despicable act of legislative and judicial malpractice to allow this atrocity to continue.
There are several key policies that must be pursued to secure the border and reform our immigration system. President Trump and Congressional Republicans must fulfill their campaign promises, and begin building the wall. The inane Democratic talking point that a wall is too costly -after doubling the debt under Obama- is statistical nonsense. The Trump administration requested $18 billion in funding for the wall, which is $1.8 billion annually over 10 years. The federal budget hovers around $4 trillion each year, so the cost of the wall would be less than five one-hundredths of one percent of the budget each year.
The notion that a border wall wouldn’t significantly curb illegal immigration is absurd as well. In 1996, Congress passed a bill requiring the construction of a double-layered fence along the San Diego coast. As a result, border apprehensions fell by 95 percent by the end of the decade. The Yuma sector of the border wall was completed in 2005, and by 2014, border apprehensions had plummeted by 96 percent from 138,438 to 5,902.
In fact, the money saved from reduced illegal immigration and the deportation of illegal aliens would pay for the cost of the wall several times over. A Center for Immigration Studies report found the lifetime net cost of each illegal alien to be $74,722. This means that the border wall will pay for itself within 10 years, even if it only keeps out 12 percent of those expected to successfully cross the border in the next decade. A 2013 study from the Heritage Foundation found that there are about 3.7 million illegal immigrant households in the United States, imposing a net fiscal burden of $54.5 billion each year.
Not only do border walls save money, they also save lives, with Israel serving as a prime example. In 2002, 452 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks. When the border fence was completed in 2005, that number declined to 56, and subsequently fell to 13 by 2007. In 2012, Israel built a 15-foot fence on its 150 mile border with Egypt, where 10,000 migrants were crossing the border annually. Since then, human trafficking has declined by 99 percent and cross-border terrorist attacks have ceased entirely.
Another travesty of our immigration policy is chain migration and the diversity visa lottery program. Over the past 35 years, 20 million of the 33 million admitted legal immigrants (61 percent) were chain-migration immigrants. They are not selected based on any skills or ability to contribute to American society. The average green card recipient sponsors three additional immigrants, with the multiplier for Mexican immigrants being over six. The basis for their entry into the United States is simply whom they’re related to.
The diversity visa lottery program allows 50,000 people each year to come into the country through a luck of the draw. The basic purpose of immigration is to bring in people who can contribute and benefit the nation as a whole, not randomly allow people from around the world to flood into the country for the sake of promulgating diversity. Furthermore, the immigrants who come under these programs tend to be low-skilled and low income. The result is these immigrants being a massive net cost to the economy, since they pay much less in taxes while receiving government benefits, public education, healthcare, and various other services. There’s no question that a merit-based system, favoring educated and skilled immigrants would be far better than what we currently have in place.
Undoubtedly, we face an uphill battle in pushing substantial immigration reform. Many Republicans have no genuine interest in addressing the issue, regardless of how much lip service they pay to constituents while on the campaign trail. It’s also unlikely that a single Democrat in Congress will support a bill that seeks to ameliorate our border security and overall immigration system, but they will fight like hell to grant amnesty to “dreamers,” while ignoring the American citizens fighting for their own dreams.
A compromise that re-enshrines DACA may be worthwhile, but only if it’s paired with the necessary reforms. There is no excuse for not securing our border with a wall, abolishing chain migration and the diversity visa lottery program in favor of merit-based immigration, and deporting all criminal illegal immigrants. It’s time for Congress and President Trump to finally get our immigration system under control.