border wall mexico trump
© Mandel Ngan/Getty Images
Trump inspects a border wall prototype in San Diego on March 13, 2018.
You could think of the last week as a solid victory for the Democrats and for basic human decency. An utterly indefensible and morally foul policy of separating children from their parents is over for now. Trump backed down amid a torrent of his usual lies and refusal to take responsibility for anything. We found a line even today's GOP would not cross (although we also found plenty who were indeed prepared to cross it).

But it is emphatically not the end of this story, not simply because there are more than 2,000 children still apart from their families, with very little hope of ever finding their parents again, but because none of the underlying reasons for this atrocity in the first place have been addressed. Nor are they likely to be addressed in the Congress today, as one of the latest GOP immigration bills staggers toward failure. Nor do the Democrats seem able, willing, or united enough to tackle the problem at its source, by finding a legislative compromise with the GOP and president, on both legal and illegal immigration. That means families in cages multiplying in the future; it means more endangered children; it means an even deeper coarsening of our moral values; it means more and more people in limbo; it means genuine refugees losing asylum and being deported back to their nightmares; and it portends even greater polarization ahead.

The reason for that is simple: The United States has not allocated the resources, political and financial, to stem the wave of illegal immigrants into this country that is now rising again, or to enable genuine asylum cases to be adjudicated fairly and expeditiously. Our political system - incapacitated by tribalism - has been incapable of addressing the intensifying problem since the Bush administration. Obama was trapped by the same impasse as Trump now is, and detained families in camps. And the problem is acute. There are almost a third of a million asylum cases pending in the system; and, as David Frum has noted, it now takes up to nine months to process a single one. We also know that the Flores settlement that bars any detention of children with their parents past 20 days has not been invalidated or legislatively fixed.

Which means to say that in less than three weeks, we will be here again, with another excruciating dilemma. Do we set up vast tent cities and camps to imprison families indefinitely, or do we simply let these families go free, and hope they show up for a future court date? Either way, we solve nothing fundamental and leave a huge incentive for those trying to enter the U.S. illegally to bring children with them when they do. And that does happen. There is fraud and trafficking and opportunism as well as valid family-based escapes from violence and persecution, and it can be hard to tell one from the other.

As in everything, Trump makes things worse. His rhetoric, his callousness, his wanton lies all make a compromise harder. It's completely understandable that Democrats do not wish to let him off the hook in any way before November. But there's a big conflict here if you actually want to end the suffering, or get at the real problem. If you do not want to jail kids with their parents indefinitely, or to maintain the incentive for illegal migrants to bring kids along for the harrowing ride, you need some sort of congressional action and soon. There's something deeply wrong, it seems to me, with expressing the view that what the government is doing is barbaric and yet allowing the underlying cause of it to continue for political reasons. If that's the case, then Trump is not the only one using kids as pawns. Chuck Schumer is too.

Comment: So Trump is guilty of "rhetoric, callousness, lies" because he had the laws enacted by Obama applied as written. What does that say about Obama, to put legislation in place and then proceed to ignore it?

"The Whole thing is a scam": Trump unloads on "Deep State"

The Democrats need to accept that they lost the last presidential election for a reason, and that their opponent's main campaign pledge was to tackle illegal immigration, with a wall at the southern border as the centerpiece. Completely resisting a legitimate agenda based on a clear campaign promise - well, it reminds me of the Republicans with Obamacare.

And there is clearly an adamant, persistent segment of the public that sees the crisis of illegal immigration as a vital one. They're not alone. Cast an eye at Brexit Britain, newly populist Italy, Macron's France, and even Merkel's Germany as it heaves in response to mass immigration from the developing world. This is a huge force in Western politics in every country. It may be the primary one. Millions of people are on the move right now, fleeing war and poverty and persecution. The vast migration from south to north, from poverty and chaos to opportunity and order in the West may be just beginning. Climate change will surely only make it worse. Finding the right balance between reason and compassion is essential if we are not going to further tear this country apart, or witness ever more humanitarian catastrophes, or see what's left of the West go under.

So give him his fucking wall. He won the election. He is owed this. It may never be completed; it may not work, as hoped. But it is now the only way to reassure a critical mass of Americans that mass immigration is under control, and the only way to make any progress under this president. And until the white working and middle classes are reassured, we will get nowhere. Don't give it to him for nothing, of course. It should come with a full path to citizenship for all DACA immigrants, as in the proposed deal in January that Trump first liked and then reneged on, under Miller's toxic influence. But it should also go bigger: a legislative fix for Flores; massive new funding for detention facilities, humane family-friendly housing, and, above all, much more money for the immigration legal system, now completely overwhelmed by asylum cases. If Democrats can show they want to deal with the humanitarian problem as a whole, and are willing to compromise on the wall, they'll be in a much stronger position going forward than in the recent past.*

And this strikes me as urgent. We have a burgeoning humanitarian crisis in our own country, and it is simply not good enough to let it fester some more. The future levels of immigration - and the methods for deciding who comes and who doesn't - can be determined after the fall elections. For what it's worth, I favor a Canadian style merit system; a tightening of extended family-migration laws; and marginally lower levels of legal immigration so that the country can better absorb the current wave, which is as high a proportion of the population as in the 1920s, and far greater in absolute numbers than any previous period at all. But I'm open to other ideas. The point is that after this crisis, we have to return this debate to the calm and nitty-gritty area of legislative hearings and compromises, rather than the cable news and social media rhetorical screech of the recent past.

If all this sounds like appeasing a bigot, I understand. But better to see it, I think, as a way to address the legitimate concerns, fears, and worries of a large number of Americans who feel like strangers in their own land, and whose emotional response to that has been to empower the white nationalist right. It's also simply the moral thing to do to relieve real human misery on the borders. It's good politics too, I'd argue, for both parties in the medium term. At some point, the GOP will need to drop the appearance of bald-faced racism, callousness, and brute force, if they are to survive anywhere outside their base. And equally, the Democrats who are currently posturing are playing a good card badly. They give off the appearance, as Hillary Clinton did, of making no distinction between legal and illegal immigration, favoring de facto open borders, and calling anyone who disagrees with them a white supremacist. Until they recognize that illegal immigration is a huge and legitimate problem, and until they propose a set of actual policy proposals to end it humanely and efficiently, they run the risk of another 2016 in 2020.

Comment: Of course Killary and the Dems make no distinction. Every illegal immigrant is a potential vote for them.

And this is what Miller and Bannon want. They want to turn the fall elections and the next presidential contest into a polarizing, fearmongering referendum on illegal immigration. They don't mind the current hysterical atmosphere or the brutality that occasioned it. They relish both because they believe that immigration is the issue of the future, and that, in the end, if passions run high, it will be to their advantage. Looking at the rest of the West right now, I suspect they're more right than wrong. Which means to say: Don't give them this issue. Do the work to defuse it. And do it sooner rather than later.

* I updated this paragraph to include mention of the deal that Democrats offered Trump earlier this year - and also make clear how what I'm proposing here is something bigger.