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It should perhaps be no surprise at all that historic evaluations of Donald Trump's presidency might come down to his capacity to put barriers between people.

And build a wall.

What’s the point?

President Trump’s campaign for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico is a political crisis, not a national one.

The United States does not face a crisis at its southern border. It does, however, face a challenge. For the nation to eventually get around, as it should, to having a coherent and sensible system of legal immigration, it must be able to maintain control of its borders and who comes into the country. Democrats and Republicans over the years have said as much, whenever it has been politically advantageous to their parties.

The making of the border "crisis" began when candidate Donald Trump and his influencers at that time decided building a wall would be the foundation of a campaign for the White House. Remember when he announced his presidential run? That's when he spoke of a need to stop the "rapists" and other criminals from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border From the outset, he promised to build a wall and, he added, to have Mexico pay for it.

It really doesn't matter what has happened on the border since, because Trump foreordained that his wall would be a central tenant of his immigration control plans. With a Congress half controlled by Democrats after the midterms, the president has known for some time that moving the needle on his wall would require a crisis. So how does a crisis happen? In presidential politics, it's a simple as this: Start calling it a crisis, and presto-chango, it is one.

Arkansas' lawmakers in Congress are joining in the fray, staying close to the president's overly simplistic approach and fully embracing the fight with Democrats.

"The United States is facing both a humanitarian and national security crisis on our southern border, and President Trump is responsibly pressing Democrats for resources to address border security," said Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers and the Third Congressional District of Arkansas. "It is neither immoral nor wasteful -- it's a constitutional imperative. Just a few days removed from taking an oath to our Constitution, I stand with the President in supporting the safety and security of our nation."

The United States needs a robust discussion on immigration and tighter border security must be part of that. But let's not pretend Trump's approach is a well-developed strategic plan to solve the nation's immigration issues. As much as Trump's wall would serve as a barrier to some illegal crossings, it is much more a wedge he hopes will drive the voters he needs into the GOP corral.

President Trump needs the southern border to be a crisis for the nation. Without a crisis, how could he justify putting hundreds of thousands of federal employees out of work in his all-out campaign to achieve a victory?

USA Today undertook an amazing examination of the nation's 2,000-mile border with Mexico, on which our country already has about 650 miles of fencing. That may sound alarmingly low, and even more so when one considers about 350 miles of the fencing is designed to stop pedestrians. The other 300 miles were created to stop vehicles, in areas of harsh deserts that make pedestrian crossings highly unlikely.

And many of the remaining miles along the border are so rugged -- high bluffs and deep canyons -- that a fence on the United States side would simply be superfluous -- i.e., a waste of money.

One more way the "build the wall" campaign oversimplifies border security? More than two-thirds of property along the U.S.-Mexico border does not belong to the federal government, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That means building walls will become an issue of eminent domain -- the federal government "taking" property -- and some landowners promise to fight it.

The odd thing is, we're not all that averse to investing money in strategically placed barriers near busy cities along the border. But most border crossings for people and drugs are happening at ports of entry, not in the deserts. And yet we hear Trump speaking as though his wall will reduce the need for Border Patrol agents. That would be a colossal mistake if border security is the real goal.

It often doesn't seem to be. The goal appears to be political victories.

Put barriers where they can be effective, but this discussion needs to be about more than a wall. It needs to be about a strategy to improve the nation's capacity for enforcement at the borders and for realistic legal immigration.

Those kinds of policies will not be forthcoming in the midst of a government shutdown/showdown over a wall.

Commentary on 01/11/2019

Print Headline: Beyond the wall

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