Right Goal, Wrong Way?

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Donald Trump is right to want a wall across our southern border, provided it meets one of Ronald Reagan’s conditions—that it have plenty of gates through which legitimate seekers of the American Dream can enter to pursue their own destinies while using their strengths to make America stronger.  In other words, the wall should be a barrier to keep bad people—terrorists, drug dealers, other assorted criminals—out, but a funnel to make it easier for the good people—the strivers after a better way of life for themselves and their families—in.

But how President Trump is going about it could lead to dangers which would either make future presidents too strong to be held accountable to the public, or too weak to cope with future emergencies.  There are ways better than declaring a national emergency by which he can fulfill his campaign promise to make America safer.

The problem with declaring a national emergency is that it will undoubtedly be challenged in the courts, and the challenge will ultimately reach the United States Supreme Court.  How the Supremes will rule is debatable.  But suppose they rule in favor of the President.  He’ll more easily get his wall which, if designed properly and is supplemented by other border security measures—more guards and guard posts, drones, checkpoints, etc.—will effectively make America safer without damaging her reputation for being a haven for those fleeing grinding poverty or predatory crime.

But there’ll be a cost as well:  A precedent which could empower future presidents to achieve policy goals via declarations of national emergency.  These future presidents could be Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, with goals worthy or unworthy.  Nobody can predict precisely what actions will be taken by which presidents yet to be elected, but do we want to risk the rise of a bad actor using greater powers than presidents currently have?  For example, do we want to empower a future president to implement via emergency decree the Green New Deal, rather than submit it to scrutiny and debate in Congress and the media?  Or a future president could declare a national emergency and take action on guns without congressional approval—a possibility raised by Nancy Pelosi.

And suppose the Democrats prevail in their attempt to block the wall?  Success will establish a precedent which may make future presidents weaker by reducing their power to take action against threats which may not be foreseeable now but which, given the nature of the world, will almost assuredly arise.  Do we want to take that risk?

Better ways for President Trump to achieve his goals should be explored.  For example,  President Trump could include wall-building money in the proposed budget he must submit to Congress for its approval.  Of course, many, if not most, Democrats will oppose such a provision, but a good, spirited debate would be a healthy way of demonstrating each side’s respective stance on border security.  Besides, would the Democrats want to appear to be opposed to border security measures?

Or, better yet, the President could try to revive a deal once offered him by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer—Funding for the wall in exchange for legal protections for the “Dreamers.”  The foundations of a deal are already in place:  The President has expressed sympathy and a willingness to help the Dreamers in the past, while many Democrats are on record as supporting means to crack down on illegal immigration and controlling our southern border through a variety of means including physical barriers.

One can only hope both sides of the issue will reach an accommodation, and avoid the sort of settlement which will be unsatisfactory to one side, and fraught with future dangers to all.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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