New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year and welcome to what will be the longest year of our lives: The 2020 election.

President Trump, boxed in by his 2016 campaign pledge to build a wall (WaPo and NYT note this was a Roger Stone idea — the border security expert he is), clearly believes this is the way to keep his base energized. House Democrats feel they were elected, in large part, to oppose the administration’s immigration agenda. Meanwhile, the handful of Senators from both parties facing tough re-election fights in 2020 will be the ones to watch.

Interestingly, in spite of the president’s simplistic approach, the public debate around border security has reached a new level of sophistication.

In the past, experts labored to insert issues such as ports of entry, eminent domain, border trade, or environmental protections into the debate. These days, the debate not only includes these topics, but also questions about asylum protections, treatment of migrants and conditions in home countries. All of which provide an opportunity for the border security conversation to become more fact-based and less symbolic.

New Year’s Resolution #1: Be positive.

The end of the week will be the first set of paychecks approximately 800,000 federal workers will miss due to the partial shutdown. Already there have been stories of TSA agents calling in sick because they can no longer afford child care and the likelihood tax refunds and food stamps will be delayed.

Not to mention the immigration courts’ backlog is increasing with immigration judges furloughed and that E-Verify has been suspended.

Pressure will grow on the administration to find an exit ramp. But it doesn’t seem the president is going to budget from his $5.7 billion wall request. And, at this point, Pelosi and Schumer have been adamant that the wall will not be funded. After a flurry of meetings over the weekend, The Post reported, “Both sides acknowledged that they remained far apart late Sunday.”

There is a bit of chatter that a deal might be in the offing to trade border security for DACA and/or TPS protections. (Between the two programs, over 1 million immigrants will lose their legal status.) But Democrats (and even Republicans such as Mike Simpson of Idaho) are leery of negotiating with a president who pulls the carpet out from under negotiations.

In advocating for this compromise, I wrote on, “Political intransigence makes for great television, but it makes for a dysfunctional nation as well.”

If a legislative compromise along these lines takes shape but the administration moves the goalposts to demand changes to the TVPRA or the Flores Agreement, the deal will die. Particularly given reports over the holidays of deaths of two detained children and deteriorating conditions in detention centers that have led to 22 deaths in ICE facilities over the last two years.

Unless calmer heads prevail, we may be here for a while.

New Year’s Resolution #2: Don’t bet on #1.

All to say, 2019 is really about 2020.

Jonathan Blitzer put it well in the New Yorker, “Immigration policy has always given rise to pitched political battles, on the left and on the right, but this is the first time in modern memory that an American President has openly and deliberately stoked these divisions for the sake of partisan theatre.”

Finally, let’s be honest: It is going to be an incredibly ugly two years. Yes, Democrats need to engage to seek solutions. But, whether or not the narrative moves in the direction of valuing immigration, or we get anything constructive accomplished, is really up to conservative leaders.

For our part, in 2019, along with a fast expanding digital strategy, we aim to match or exceed our 2018 efforts of 548 events in 110 target congressional districts across 27 states, generating nearly 250 news stories.


President and CEO of National Immigration Forum, author of “Crossing Borders” (April 2022, Rowman & Littlefield), host of the podcast, Only in America.

President and CEO of National Immigration Forum, author of “Crossing Borders” (April 2022, Rowman & Littlefield), host of the podcast, Only in America.