by Michael J. Stern, Opinion columnist
Securing the border is not racism. Democrats need to stop pretending it is. The right battle for my party is over where to get the money for a wall.
Before that headline makes you lick the tip of your poisoned pen, or crack your knuckles in preparation for some nasty tweets aimed my way, hear me out.
I’m one of you. I voted for Hillary Clinton not because she was the better of two bad choices but because I was enthusiastic about a Clinton presidency. In the past two years, I’ve donated to Democratic campaigns around the country in an effort to slow the moral corrosion that comes with every candidate who bears the Trump brand. And, as a gay Jew, I’m a member of two minority groups — three if my therapist is correct in her obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis.
I believe that part of what makes America great is the richness that comes with the diversity of its people. With that said, every country has the right to decide whom it allows into its borders. This principle is the most basic component of a country’s sovereignty and is generally understood and supported by liberals and conservatives alike.
President Donald Trump visits the border wall in Calexico, California, on April 5, 2019. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
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Why, then, have Democrats gone ride or die against a border wall? I know the talking points: A wall will not end illegal immigration; our economy relies on work performed by immigrants; U.S. citizens commit more crime than people illegally in this country. All these things are true, but none supports the logical springboard that Democrats have relied on in their unbending opposition to “the wall.”
While a physical barrier will not end illegal immigration, it will surely be a deterrent. If more immigrants are needed to work jobs Americans won’t take, legal immigration can be increased. Most important, it is not fair to argue that a barrier to illegal immigration will not reduce crime because Americans commit more crime than people who are illegally in the country. One does not follow the other. Infinitely more people die in car accidents than plane crashes, but no one is advocating that we end efforts to ensure air safety.
Democrats are weaker because of the wall
During my years as a federal prosecutor, I handled countless drug trafficking and violent gang cases. Most of my big cases included defendants who came to this country illegally. Americans who commit crimes cannot be deported. They have a constitutional right to be here. We are stuck with them. Not so for illegal immigrants.
It’s a rare Democrat who calls for open borders, where immigrants who advocate violence against Americans, or who have criminal histories, can freely wander into the United States. But Democrats’ own proposals for securing the border have been delivered in such hushed tones that the party comes across as blindly objecting to all forms of border security.
Isaac Newton said, “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Democrats have proven this theory and made themselves weaker for it. Their entrenchment against “the wall” is more a reaction to President Donald Trump than support for a better plan that balances the need for security and the desire to maintain the uniquely diverse mosaic of cultures that is the essence of the American experience.
While most immigrants do not pose a risk to our safety, the ones who do are a ticking political time bomb. At some point, a person illegally in this country is going to make use of our laws that allow easy access to an assault rifle. The days of news coverage that follow will be political catnip for Trump and the GOP. An event of this kind that detonates in the approach to the 2020 election could change the trajectory of the election for the worse. It’s a risk Democrats cannot take.
Fight over the money, not the wall
The Democrats’ congressional leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, need to create a consensus among their members that unites them in strong support of border security. While talking up the benefits of legal immigration, they need to acknowledge the risks posed by illegal immigration and commit to the fight against it. Securing the border is not the same as racism, and Democrats need to stop pretending it is.
I get that “the wall” has become a symbol of bigotry for all who fall outside the narrow perimeter of white Christian inheritance. But given the current balance of political power, tilting at symbolic windmills is a luxury Democrats cannot afford.
There is a battle to be fought, but Democrats need to pick the right battle. It’s not the wall; it’s the money.
It’s the $8.6 billion Trump wants for his wall that could be spent on priorities that have a direct impact on people’s lives. Priorities such as after-school meals, medical research and educational programs. Protecting these core programs from financial starvation is what draws people to the blue party, and what motivates them to raise their voices and cast their ballots. Democrats should be saying “yes” to the wall but insisting that Trump keep his promise that Mexico pay for it.
Democrats should also be publicly suggesting that the president and congressional Republicans fund the wall through increased taxes on people like Sheldon Adelson, Trump’s biggest donor, who saved $670 million under the president’s 2017 tax reform.
Support private border wall funding
Finally, Democrats should be rallying behind an early movement by Trump backers to privately fund a border wall. Earlier this year, Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, memorialized this grassroots effort with the “Buy a Brick, Build the Wall Act” — “legislation that would create an account at the U.S. Treasury dedicated to holding public donations for the completion of a wall along the U.S. southern border.”
Democrats should relish the idea of Trump, his “build that wall” chanting base and billionaire GOP funders like the Koch brothers depleting their resources on a wall rather than contributions to Republican candidates running for office.
Fox News could freshen its prime-time programming with Jerry Lewis-like telethons in which Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham man the phones and beg viewers for donations. Chick-fil-A could step up as a corporate sponsor and Ted Nugent could headline.
If a border wall gets built without robbing the piggy bank that funds important liberal causes, great. When it doesn’t, its champions will have only themselves to blame.
There are few things more satisfying than finding the unexpected three fries at the bottom of a to-go bag, seconds before it is crumpled and tossed. Democrats blaming Republicans for failing to fund “the wall” would be one of them.
Michael J. Stern, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, was a federal prosecutor for 25 years in Los Angeles and Detroit. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelJStern1
USA Today · by Michael J. Stern, Opinion columnist