A House-Senate conference committee is working on a package of border security policies that could win the support of both Democrats and Republicans.
The final product is certain to include several measures that already have full, bipartisan approval: more immigration judges, more technology to detect illegal drugs at ports of entry, more humanitarian aid for migrants in custody, etc.
The hang-up, of course, will be a border barrier. President Trump insists on money — his demand is $5.7 billion — that would build new steel-slat barriers along about 230 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. About 80 miles of that would replace current, dilapidated, inadequate fencing, while 150 or so miles would cover currently unfenced areas.
On the other side are Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has called a border wall “an immorality between nations” and denies evidence that a barrier would increase border security by decreasing the number of illegal crossings into the United States.
Pelosi won the 35-day partial government shutdown by sticking to her position. The new negotiations will test whether she and other Democratic barrier deniers can prevail again.
The need for new and improved barriers along some parts of the border is in the news almost daily.
The border is 1,954 miles long. Everyone agrees that big parts of it do not require any fencing because the terrain is so rough that it makes crossing very difficult.
On the other hand, a significant part of the border does need barriers. Right now, there are about 705 miles of fencing — about 405 miles of pedestrian fencing and about 300 of vehicle fencing.
Some of the pedestrian fencing is easy to breach because it is old, falling apart and was never that imposing in the first place. The Trump administration seeks to do three things: 1. Replace some ineffective pedestrian fence; 2. Replace current vehicle fence with new pedestrian fence; and 3. Build new pedestrian fence in some currently unfenced areas.
The construction of barriers dramatically reduces illegal border crossing attempts. Looking at the Yuma Sector along the border in western Arizona, in 2005, before the construction of barriers, the Border Patrol caught 138,438 illegal crossers, according to figures compiled by the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors greater restrictions on immigration. Last year, with barriers, there were 26,244 such apprehensions in the Yuma Sector.
The San Diego Sector in California is a case study in the effectiveness of a border barrier. In 1986, before the construction of a barrier, there were more than 628,000 apprehensions, while untold numbers of others successfully made it across the border illegally. In 2017, after the construction of extensive barriers, there were 26,086 apprehensions, according to the Border Patrol.
Would anyone argue that border barriers had nothing to do with those striking before-and-after reductions?
The effectiveness of border barriers is a settled fact. Yet some Democrats, led by the speaker of the House, deny that fact and insist that new and improved barriers would not increase border security. Other prominent Democrats, such as recently declared presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, have called the Trump barrier proposal a “medieval vanity project.”
At the same time, other Democrats seem more willing to take a fact-based approach.
Who will prevail in the border talks? The president and Congress have two weeks to find out.