The new year is upon us, and ’tis the season for resolutions. As we are in the midst of a partial government shutdown that looks to extend well into 2019, brought about by President Trump’s insistence on Congress requisitioning funds for a border wall, here’s one that I would like to recommend to those who have been elected to represent us at the federal level: Resolve to do your job!
Each member of Congress and the president swears to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States as a part of their oath of office. Article 1, Section 8 along with Article 4, Section 4 specifically lay out the duty of the federal government to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States along with protection against invasion. In most cases, the enumerated powers of Congress are permissive in nature, but when it comes to the common defense they are quite explicitly laid out.
It is in this context that the debate over President Trump’s border wall is being waged in a larger conversation about dealing with illegal immigration. Most serious commentators on illegal immigration know that it is intrinsically linked to the question of national security. This has been an issue we in Pima County have wrestled with ourselves, being a border region, regarding the funding for Operation Stonegarden. Until President Trump, our Board of Supervisors never questioned taking the extra money to facilitate dealing with security issues arising from human and drug trafficking.
To what extent then is the common defense and general welfare of the United States threatened by the problem of illegal immigration? Is it serious enough to warrant a wall? Most pundits argue no. President Trump has argued vociferously that it is necessitated. A physical brick and mortar edifice along the nation’s southern border was a huge promise in his election campaign, one he is looking to collect on, and shutting down all nonessential functions of the federal government is a price he is willing to pay.
How did we get here? Talking heads are largely aligned in blaming the president. The real blame lies with Congress. In 2006, in an all-too-rare display of bipartisanship, they voted for the Secure Fence Act. This bill originally included plans for 700 miles of double-layer fencing. To give you a sense of its support, it passed 80-19 in the Senate, with Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; and Barack Obama, D-Ill., all voting to support it. As of today, much of that fencing remains unbuilt, as the legislative teeth of the bill were effectively pulled soon after.
With the hundreds of thousands who attempt to illegally enter this country or overstay their visas every year, there is little doubt that a security threat exists along the southern border. Human traffickers, drug smugglers, violent criminals and, yes, terrorists are all a part of the more explicit reasons why most politicians will acknowledge that there is a national security connection to the illegal immigration issue, one that, until recently, even some opposed to the president’s wall had agreed should be addressed with a physical barrier.
After the hubbub surrounding the thousands of Central American immigrants who literally tried to force their way into the country, the need to address the many wide-open swaths of land along the border is greater than ever. That caravan was stopped; what about the next one? What about the thousands who cross elsewhere along the border? Congress has a sworn duty to deal with this, and until now, they have continued to kick the can down the road. Those who don’t want an actual “wall” should negotiate for something else — otherwise known as compromise — but to do nothing at all is not legitimate.