Why the Border Standoff Is Cause for So Much Concern

Why the Border Standoff Is Cause for So Much Concern
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Why the Border Standoff Is Cause for So Much Concern
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
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One of the most troubling things about Washington’s ongoing impasse over immigration and border security is that the way through it is so clear. All the hype and hyperbole conceal the fact that there is actually plenty of substantive agreement between the two sides. Here’s my deeper concern: If Washington can’t reach an agreement when neither side fundamentally disagrees with the other side, how will Republicans and Democrats ever handle the problems on which they fundamentally disagree? If Democrats and Republicans can’t negotiate an agreement on this one and keep our government open, how will they get anything done?

Every productive negotiation consists of two elements: give and take. One side wants X, the other wants Y. One baseball team wants another team’s pitcher — the other team wants a hitter in return. A car salesman wants to sell a car — a buyer is willing to part with some of her savings to drive it off the lot.

Some deals simply don’t work. The team won’t trade the pitcher for any price. There are certain cars a buyer wouldn’t drive off the lot even they were free. There are some deals in Washington that will run up against the same barrier. It’s hard to imagine what Democrats would have to give Republicans to get substantial buy-in for single-payer health care. By the same token, few Democrats would sign onto legislation substantially curtailing a woman’s right to choose — no matter what they got in return.

Now, that doesn’t mean the parties shouldn’t try to expand insurance coverage as some Republicans argue, or work to keep abortions safe, legal and rare, as some Democrats contend. But much of politics is about crafting agreements that do work — finding places where people who have different visions for the country can still solve problems. The magic of American democracy flows from Washington’s ability to negotiate and compromise the way to solutions. That magic is rare in our government today.

Here’s why the current immigration wrangling is so troublesome. The “give” both sides would need to placate the other on immigration and border security is “doable.” Both sides have, in fact, offered something similar to what the other wants in negotiations and statements. I will go a step further: Both sides fundamentally agree with the other on the item that appears to be their sticking point. Despite that, the two sides can’t seem to get to an agreement, as we know, painfully, from the recent government shutdown and the looming possibility of another.

Begin with the White House. President Trump wants to extend a barrier for security on the Mexican border. The “give” he needs to offer Democrats is a long-term solution for the “Dreamers” -- undocumented adults brought to the United States as children by their parents, who came here illegally. Most Dreamers arrived as toddlers, have no memory of the country where they were born, are productive members of our society, and have never committed a crime. To get Democrats to accept a better barrier, President Trump needs to offer Dreamers a path to citizenship, or at least permanent residency.

While the White House has yet to offer its “give” on the Dreamers, the president himself has made clear he is sympathetic to them. In September 2017, he tweeted: “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really! ... They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own - brought in by parents at young age.” In other words, Trump’s “give” would not actually cut against his own stated position.

To get a deal for the Dreamers, Democrats will have to embrace stronger border security — a position that, though you might not know it, their leaders have embraced for years. Hillary Clinton supported beefing up border security. A Senate bill that got 45 Democratic votes last year included $25 billion for a border wall over the next decade. Democrats may not like the wall and may not think we need it, but they support the goal of keeping people from entering the United States illegally.

All of this is to say: An agreement is clearly possible. We know that because both sides can accept what the other wants, because both sides have previously supported that very position. Republicans and Democrats need to remember that, in the end, democracies, like any collaboration among people, are about give and take. To move our country forward, we need the leaders and members of both parties to work in good faith with their colleagues across the aisle — to give and take so our country can solve more of its problems.

Joe Lieberman, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut, is national co-chairman of No Labels, an organization working to create a new center in American politics that puts country before party.

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