Remember President Trump’s border wall? The one that he first said would be paid by Mexico, and that he later asked U.S. taxpayers to fund? Well, it may be one of the first casualties of the new Congress that resulted from the Nov. 6 mid-term elections.
The newly elected Democrat-controlled House most likely will not approve funding for Trump’s border wall, which most experts agree would be a monumental waste of money.
Also, the new House will try to roll back many of Trump’s most Draconian immigration measures and seek to restore foreign aid to Central America and South America, which the administration has been seeking to drastically cut.
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, who is expected to be the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told me in an interview that he will propose legislation asking for Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for Venezuelan, Honduran, Salvadoran and Haitian refugees who have been denied U.S. residency by the Trump administration.
Democrats in the House will also seek permanent residency for the nearly 800,000 DREAMers — young adults brought to this country as children by their undocumented parents, Engel told me.
While the new Democratic House will not be able to singlehandedly pass any of these measures without the Republican-controlled Senate, its funding powers will give it significant negotiating power in domestic and foreign policies.
“It’s Congress, not the president, who has the power of the purse. And we are going to use it,” Engel told me.
Asked specifically about the wall, Engel said, “We will try to stop it.” He added that, “The wall is a ridiculous proposal. It causes a lot of ill will, and it doesn’t do anything.”
Most experts agree that Trump’s proposed border wall would be almost useless. It would be costly and difficult to build along the entire 2,000-mile U.S.-México border. Furthermore, more than 40 percent of undocumented migrants don’t come into the United States by crossing the Mexican border; they arrive by plane and overstay their visas.
In addition, Trump’s obsession with illegal immigration — and most recently with the caravan of Central American migrants that trying to get to the U.S. border — is largely based on lies. While Trump recently claimed that there are 25 million illegal immigrants in the country, the real number is 11.3 million, and it has been going down since 2009, according to Pew Research Center data.
“The idea of building a wall is insulting, and it diminishes our relationship with our partners in the hemisphere,” Engel said. “China and Russia — and even Cuba — are licking their lips.”
The House will try to forge a positive agenda with Latin America, whether it’s on immigration, trade or the environment, Democrats say. “Trump keeps up his insults about illegal immigration and building walls with México. What we want to do is to build bridges, not walls,” Engel told me.
With Democrats in the majority, House leadership plans to hold hearings to restore foreign aid to Central America as a way to address the root causes that drive families to seek refuge in the United States.
In addition, there will be a push to step up individual sanctions against top Venezuelan officials and to get TPS status for more Venezuelans in the United States, Engel said. It’s absurd for the Trump administration to ask other countries to take in Venezuelan migrants, while not admitting more of them into the United States, Engel said.
My opinion: It’s entirely possible that, as the new House uses its subpoena powers to obtain Trump’s tax returns and investigate his ties with Russia, there will be total gridlock in Congress, and nothing will get done.
But the Democrats know that Trump will try to portray them as the obstructionist party. If they are smart, they will push for a constructive agenda, making deals immigration and foreign aid, among other issues.
After two years of Trump’s demagogic xenophobia, the Democrats’ build-bridges-not-walls agenda may be supported by some moderate Republicans. That would be a much-needed breath of fresh air in hemispheric relations and put Trump and his isolationist ideologues on the defensive.