Terry H. Schwadron

Feb. 12, 2019

Overnight, it was announced that 17 congressional conferees had reached basic agreement on border security, allowing the country to skip another shutdown, presuming that both Congress and President Trump stamp approval.

Reports are that the agreement gives the president some 55 additional miles of border for less money than had been demanded, and a solution to the weekend’s snag over a proposed cap on arrests of immigrants away from the border. From the outset, it has been clear that any compromise would be less than perfect.

Any successful outcome — at least from the point of view of avoiding another government shutdown — will not please everyone, and likely not President Trump, who even last night was still talking about a physical Wall.

To hear over the last few days that the conferees were actually looking sector by sector information to agree on appropriate solutions, at less than half the price being sought, was encouraging. To hear that an overall compromise was, in fact, within reason, was sort of thrilling, as public policy-making is concerned.

But then to understand that the new sticking point was Democratic insistence on a cap for arrests on the number of unauthorized immigrants already in the country who could be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers was distressing for a few reasons. With these talks as mercurial as they have been, it seemed that a proposal on its way to become compromise could summarily just go off the rails.

Trump had tweeted the expected, that this was a new issue and, from his point of view, an outrageous insistence on letting any criminals over the limit to go free. For their part, Democrats say a limit of 16,500 beds in ICE detention centers for arrests in the interior of the country (48,000 to 34,000 overall) would force the Trump administration to focus on detaining undocumented immigrants with criminal records instead of using indiscriminate sweeps that drag in otherwise law-abiding residents. Instead, it appears the conferees endorsed keeping the limit as it had been, at about 40,000 beds.

So, once again, it would seem that cool heads prevailed here. Without a deal, we were putting those 800,000 federal employees and their families at risk again.

I would argue that the issue raised by Democrats is a good question, but I had wondered aloud whether this was the time for it. On the table is not an overall, comprehensive immigration proposal. By agreement, what is up for negotiation is the narrower question of what should or should not be erected on open areas of the border or additional staff or smarter uses of technology.

One of the reasons that people hold government in such low respect is exactly because the political parties get caught up in their own ideological questions and forget to solve the practical problem at hand. Among the strongest reasons to oppose vast spending on a concrete or steel wall across the nation is exactly because it will not necessarily solve any of the problems being cited, from coyote crossings to immigrant caravans to drug trafficking.

As to the issue itself, it does seem loony to think you can come up with a single number that would constitute the full set of people with criminal records who may be arrested over the next year and set a limit. It is just poking the Trump bear.

On the other hand, what gives rise to that thought is an anti-immigrant campaign through ICE that is running rampantly over families, immigrant rights and common sense. ICE is grabbing immigrants whose families have been here for decades, who have served in the U.S. armed forces, who have overstayed visa limits. These are not necessarily the serious criminals that Trump claims are the targets here.

Among all other arguments, if the border security barriers that come about as a result of the conference compromise should, by all Trump logic, keep violent criminals away, right? If we know the number of “violent offenders” arrested in the last two years is known, logically there should be fewer going forward. Otherwise, proponents for the Wall are just blowing smoke.

This new issue is akin to the whole “sanctuary cities” debate, about whether local police are somehow protecting arrestees for serious crimes who are in the country illegally. That is simply incorrect. But local police in New York City or San Francisco are not going out of their way to enforce immigration law. Local police are not turning over those arrested for traffic stops or other minor misdemeanors. They are turning over murder arrestees. So, we should just end that line of argument.

It is easy to add new immigration issues to the mix in an attempt to make the whole package more palatable. But we are at five minutes before another shutdown, and, for me, at least, there is little time to let this agreement go awry.



Journalist, musician, community volunteer