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Here are some cold truths.

No one wins a political fight by separating thousands of kids wholesale from their parents. No one should need hindsight to see that.

The president's administration separated thousands of children from their parents to deter unauthorized border crossings. It did this despite the fact arrests for illegal crossings are at their lowest level in 46 years, immigration figures show. The administration backed off only after a backlash almost any parent could foresee.

Apologists claim then-President Barack Obama "did the same thing." Suppose he did. He had sense enough to stop before caging thousands. So, any particular reason to repeat this blunder on a much bigger scale and then hang on so long?

Any decent nation would reunite those families, even on the way to kicking them out. I am very curious to see if the geniuses who thought caging kids was a good idea will manage to put those families together again.

Arkansas' own Sen. Tom Cotton tweeted Tuesday: "Democrats don't oppose family separation at border, they oppose immigration enforcement at border. All 49 Dem Senators support a get-radical, extreme open-borders bill. Simple solution: change law to let DHS keep families together at border. But Dems want them released into U.S."

DHS, of course, is the federal Department of Homeland Security.

Cotton has some fair points as far as he went. Here is the rest of the matter: The administration ramped up family separation at the border because the president favors complete immigration enforcement. All 51 GOP senators, cowered by this administration, support a get-radical, extreme closed borders bill. Simple solution: Give the administration what it wants, and it will keep families together, but on the other side of the border. It wants them kept out of the U.S.

Combine those statements to get the whole picture. Neither side can get what it wants. Neither side wants to give up.

The stalemate is not a fair fight, though. Even without the self-inflicted repulsiveness of family separation, the pro-tight border security position is always at a political disadvantage. The disadvantage is less a matter of moral high ground than simple cost.

Airtight border security would be hugely expensive. Mexico -- surprise -- is no more willing to pay for sealing our southern border than we are. The president's campaign promise that "Mexico will pay for the wall!" was fantasy. He knew it. Almost all his supporters knew it, too, but hoped they would get something. Their real problem all along is that doing anything effective costs money. Doing nothing and letting immigrants cross is cheap.

Now, an argument can be made -- and regularly is -- that the costs of illegal immigration are huge. OK, but the average U.S. taxpayer is either not convinced or just does not care.

I can easily find polls showing most Americans want tighter border security. I can find other polls just as easily showing they want lower taxes, more social services and a balanced budget. What voters want and what voters are willing to pay for tends to vary.

The president promised his supporters cheap, easy border security. There is no such thing. So now he wants $25 billion from U.S. taxpayers to build a wall. He is not going to get it. He is getting increasingly frustrated. He lashed out. The way he lashed out was both cruel and self-defeating.

The number of split families that should be reunited grew every day this dumb, cruel policy stayed in place. Pile on top of all this the sheer logistics of safely warehousing kids who have no parents present looking out for them.

There is no nice way to say this: This administration lacks the competence to manage what it tried to do. It lacks the competence to fix the mess it left. If it knew what it was doing, it would have mustered the resources to carry out its policy first. There would be no pictures of kids in cages because a prepared administration would have had something better than cages ready.

Soon there will be horror stories of abused kids, kids with health problems and kids whose parents cannot find them. This will far surpass the horror of separation itself. Many of these stories yet to come will be true.

The president did not back away soon enough because he was afraid of looking weak. Here is a good rule of thumb: Better to look weak than to look cruel and incompetent. After all, incompetence is just a specific kind of weakness. And any weakling can be cruel to children.

Commentary on 06/23/2018

Print Headline: A bad plan is ending badly

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