On Thursday, Trump plans a personal visit to the Mexican border, where his administration said an illegal immigration “crisis” has been worsening by the day.
Reacting to Trump’s speech, Senate Republican leaders — who have said they will not pass Democrats’ spending bills without border wall funding — reaffirmed that they’ve stood by the White House’s position.
“Tonight, President Trump reaffirmed his commitment to addressing the humanitarian and security crisis at our nation’s southern border,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. “His proposal to increase security through physical barriers suits the reality on the ground. It’s what career Border Patrol experts support and are asking for. And it simply builds on earlier legislation that Senate Democrats like then-Senator Obama, then-Senator Clinton, and Senator Schumer previously supported with enthusiasm.”
McConnell continued: “The past eighteen days have shown that Democrats’ refusal to negotiate is not due to any principled objection, but simply due to partisan spite for the president. For the men and women of the Border Patrol, for the safety of American families, and for all Americans who deserve a fully operational federal government, I sincerely hope my Democratic colleagues will come to the table and help deliver a solution.”
Some legal and political analysts were less enthusiastic. “As expected, [Trump’s address] was laden with emotional appeals, with the president presenting a parade of horribles,” John Cerone, Professor of International Law at The Fletcher School, told Fox News. He added that a wall would have only “limited efficacy” compared to other options.
“Ultimately, the only way to stop irregular migration is to give people some hope of regular migration,” Cerone said. “Expanding pathways for regular migration, in particular by creating new employment visas and raising the limits on existing categories, is a win-win situation.”
The number of illegal border crossings is down from 1.6 million in 2000 to less than 400,000 last year. But, the number of families coming over the border has risen sharply, putting a strain on health care and immigration services that came into sharp focus with the deaths of two migrant children in December.
Administration figures have shown that 161,000 family units crossed the border in fiscal 2018, a 50 percent increase from the year before. Homeland Security officials also have said 60,000 unaccompanied children crossed the border last year, a 25 percent increase.
After a sit-down with Democrats over the weekend, the White House issued a series of budget demands, including a new request for $800,000 for humanitarian needs. But, mostly, Trump still wants his wall, which Democrats have described as immoral as well as no solution to illegal immigration.
In a pre-emptive move, the White House said Monday that tax refunds would be paid despite the shutdown. That shutdown exemption would break from past practice and could be challenged.
Emphasizing that he was not abandoning his security argument, Trump said in a fundraising email Tuesday: “I want to make one thing clear to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi: Your safety is not a political game or a negotiation tactic!”
Pelosi, for her part, has also sparred openly with the White House. She reportedly engaged in a tense confrontation with Nielsen on Wednesday in the Situation Room, interrupting Nielsen’s presentation on border security and illegal immigration, telling her, “I reject your facts.”
In her brief response address on Tuesday night, Pelosi used the word “facts” six times, in an effort to contrast with what she called Trump’s rhetoric of “fear.”
“The fact is: the women and children at the border are not a security threat, they are a humanitarian challenge – a challenge that President Trump’s own cruel and counterproductive policies have only deepened,” Pelosi said.
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