Trump Promised a Wall and Delivered an Amnesty

President Trump promised the country a wall but instead delivered the biggest amnesty since 1986. Amnesty in this case doesn’t mean citizenship, it means de facto legal status by creating a new protected class of illegal aliens who are immune to detention, prosecution, and deportation. The law doesn’t stop there. Here are the worst of the immigration provisions of the spending bill passed last week:

  • Provides for a massive, open-ended amnesty that encourages trafficking in children.
  • Expands “catch and release,” wherein Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents catch illegal aliens and then very quickly releases them into the interior of the country, mostly never to be heard from again, except when they apply for amnesty or are arrested for other crimes.
  • Slashes funding to ICE for beds for detainees from 49,060 to 40,520.
  • Gives veto power over wall construction to deep blue, anti-border enforcement towns. Got that? The scant 55 miles of wall approved for the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, can be vetoed unilaterally by local authorities.

The spending bill President Trump signed Friday gave the open borders crowd much of what it wants. But surely the worst—practically, politically, and morally—is Section 224(a), which provides that “None of the funds provided by this Act or any other Act . . . may be used by the Secretary of Homeland Security to place in detention, remove, refer for a decision whether to initiate removal proceedings, or initiate removal proceedings against a sponsor, potential sponsor, or member of a household of a sponsor or potential sponsor of an unaccompanied alien child . . .”

This is the provision that amounts to an amnesty. But in some ways it’s even worse than a straight amnesty, because it’s an open-ended promise that gives amnesty not only to those already here, but also to those who might come in the future and claim rights under this section. Worse still, it invites a huge surge in child trafficking as many of those seeking this benefit will do anything to take advantage of Trump’s giveaway.

In his State of the Union earlier this month President Trump said, “Now is the time for the Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.” The irony could not be more complete nor more grim.

The president who was elected by the forgotten middle of the country on promises to build a wall, enforce immigration laws, and protect their economic interests just signed into law a bill that betrays all of those promises. If you’re wondering where the center of political power is in Washington these days, it’s in the House Speaker’s office not in the Oval Office.

But I might be too optimistic. “It’s not fully accurate to say this bill is amnesty,” says Daniel Horowitz, senior editor at Conservative Review. “It’s worse than amnesty. Amnesty is a reprieve for a transgression of the past. This bill prospectively invites 15 million illegals to engage in human smuggling in order to obtain de facto permanent status here.” Human nature being what it is, this amnesty provision encourages adults to enter the United States illegally with children or to obtain children when they get here via human smugglers and then claim that they are Unaccompanied Minors (“UAC”).

The law creates an incentive to traffic in children and turns them into commodities—golden tickets that shield adults from law enforcement.

What about the national emergency that the president declared in order to build the wall, you might fairly ask? Won’t that help? The answer is no. Multiple legal challenges already have been filed and, as constitutional law professor John Eastman has explained, the president has a reasonably good chance of prevailing in court. But the legislation the president signed on Friday undermines the efficacy of the wall. If all that is required for legal exemption from deportation is living with a UAC then that’s what people will do. And while the wall, when constructed, will make it more difficult, the incentives to get into the country are actually higher than ever before. Clearly this is bad policy, which is what really matters, but it’s also bad politics.

As President Trump turns to his re-election campaign, he is no doubt counting on being able to run on immigration and against Congress: “I let the government shut down,” he’ll say. “I declared a national emergency and I was delayed by the courts,” he’ll inveigh. But as true as those discrete statements are, they don’t tell the whole story and a lot of people know it. Trump let two years of unified government go by and never led on the issue.

Making “Build the Wall” the centerpiece of his campaign once again, though a policy many support, seems stale. Worse, it threatens to make Trump appear weak and ineffectual to undecided voters. The fact that he did nothing on border wall funding while Republicans controlled Congress and waited until Democrats controlled the House will strike many potential Trump supporters as too cute by half. It’s the sort of political theater that Trump claimed he would eschew. He was supposed to be the straight-talking, transgressive businessman, the great negotiator who was willing to move fast and break things. But in the end, if a substantial portion of the wall isn’t built by next fall, it will look like it’s all just been posturing.

That will alienate a portion of Trump’s most fervent supporters and it will make his re-election more difficult. Why go to the mat for Trump, why suffer the slings and arrows, if he won’t follow through on his signature issue? Many will conclude the new boss is the same as the old boss. We should recall that while Trump won more votes than any other Republican in history, he also won the key states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania by less than 80,000 votes in total. It doesn’t take much alienation of that base to swing those states the other way.

And let’s be clear, the political fallout from this bill cuts one way: Trump didn’t expand his base with this move, he only shrunk it. Meanwhile, he handed Democrats a major victory. They can rightly say, we worked with Trump on the border wall, while we decreased enforcement funding and passed an amnesty for the base. And they’ll be right. As I wrote before the final  deal, if Trump folds on this issue, the real power in Washington will be with Nancy Pelosi, not with the president. And that’s exactly what happened. Pelosi and the Democrats, despite holding just one house of Congress effectively are now in control of Washington.

Most of the reporting has been focused on the sham funding for 55 miles of new wall and President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency which he will use to order the military to construct the border wall. But this misses the point. Trump just signed a law that makes the wall, even if it is finally constructed, less useful because it provides a large, ongoing, uncapped amnesty. Further, the law expanded legal immigration by doubling the cap for H2B unskilled, non-agricultural workers. This is slap in the face to the working and middle class workers who President Trump repeatedly has promised to protect and whose wages he says he wants to see increase. It undercuts what Eric Weinstein has rightly called the working class’s most valuable asset which is their asymmetric access to the American labor market.

For those counting on the emergency declaration, consider a few facts. First, the provisions we’ve been discussing are part of a law passed by Congress and signed by the president. If anyone wants to overturn the amnesty program it created, it will have to be Congress. Good luck with that.

And as for the wall, the court challenges are already underway. A nationwide injunction from a circuit is likely and that means we should expect no construction before Spring 2020, which is the soonest the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to  rule on the case. That means getting any wall built under the auspices of the emergency declaration relies entirely on Trump winning re-election. Of course, any Democrat would end construction shortly after taking office.

As usual, when it comes to immigration legislation, it’s amnesty now, enforcement tomorrow. And tomorrow never comes.

Make no mistake, Democrats made good, at least a little, in their promise to defund ICE and to grant amnesty. Trump and his voters got nothing.

Cheerleaders and cockeyed optimists will assure us that this is just a deep strategy to win by losing. But we’ve been here before with the Bushes. You don’t win by losing. You win by winning. Nancy Pelosi knows this—and she’s good at it. And she just won a big one.

By signing this bill, President Trump was keeping campaign promises. Too bad they’re not his.

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About Chris Buskirk

Chris is publisher and editor of American Greatness and the host of The Chris Buskirk Show. He was a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute and received a fellowship from the Earhart Foundation. Chris is a serial entrepreneur who has built and sold businesses in financial services and digital marketing. He is a frequent guest on NPR's "Morning Edition." His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Hill, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @TheChrisBuskirk