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Right Opinion

Judicial System and Immigration

Bill Wagner · Jan. 9, 2019

One of the good things about going off the grid for a while is that it allows you to consider the longer-term (to the extent that six weeks can be thought of as longer term) big picture away from the temptation to respond to the 24-hour news cycle. Two things have struck me over that period.

I’m a personal responsibility and limited government kinda guy, but there are things that the federal government not only should do but is required to do according to that thing called the Constitution. Among them are administering the judicial system and establishing rules and regulations regarding our borders. One would hope that the federal government would pay attention to that, but if the last six weeks are any guide, it is not even close.

Regarding the former, can anyone recall the Michael Flynn sentencing? The media was fixated on whether Flynn had been duped into lying to the FBI. While the renditions of the FBI actions did not exactly cover it with glory, I have a certain sympathy to the argument that someone of Flynn’s stature and background should not have needed to be reminded that lying to the feds is a no-no. I have less sympathy with the part where the FBI made it look like a casual chat with everyone on the same team and then tried to spin what the FBI guys on the ground believed was a slight memory lapse into a deliberate attempt to mislead the FBI.

Further, the FBI then seemed to use that to threaten all sorts of disasters — financial ruin, family legal jeopardy, etc. — on Flynn to get him to plead guilty and “cooperate.” I am still at a loss to understand why Flynn lied or felt the need to cover up what appeared to be a perfectly normal, even expected, interaction with his Russian counterpart, but that’s a story for another day. The judge in the sentencing matter was all over the map, signaling violations like treason that were factually incorrect. He reversed his comments later, but the damage was done, and Flynn is still floating in limbo.

All the while the key issue, namely how Flynn’s name surfaced in the first place, was given side-show status, when in fact it was the result of an illegal and deliberate unmasking by federal law enforcement. This is representative of the single biggest abuse of federal law-enforcement power in our lifetime, as is the use of the unverified and bogus Steele dossier to lie to the court to get a FISA warrant for one party in power to spy on the other. We still don’t know the details of how that happened, and for some inexplicable reason, Trump et al., have declined to release all of the underlying documents to get the truth.

Back to that 24-hour news-cycle reference, where even information about dire threats to the validity of government itself don’t survive beyond the day. We have heard zip about this after the Flynn hearing, and trust in the judicial system is in free fall because of it. This could happen to you. We are still waiting for the inspector general report on FBI and judicial-system conduct leading up to the 2016 election and have lost count of the time we have been waiting for Trump to release the classified docs on everything. Maybe the latter is waiting for the former, but transparency on these issues is the only way, so here’s one more plea for Trump to do the right thing. 

Now to the border. The ultra-serious business of what it means to maintain the sovereignty of the country has given way to the ultra-silly business of whether a “wall” is the same thing as a “fence” and who is to blame for the “shutdown” of 25% of the government. To paraphrase Casey Stengel, can’t anyone here play this game? Let’s deal with the so-called shutdown first. Does anyone realize that parts of the government are not operating? Paychecks are about to come due, so a couple hundred thousand government workers are about to find out, and the TSA is playing slow down, so perhaps some flights will be missed. But other than that, does anyone care?

I find it telling that when the shutdown impact is discussed, it is downplayed because of the 800,000 fed employees in the line of fire, about half of whom have been told to stay home because they are “non-essential.” I regularly interview senior execs for positions in my early stage company portfolio, and I can’t remember the last time the guy across the table from me said his main career goal was to become a non-essential employee. Maybe our esteemed leaders could take a hint and realize that government is way too bloated, but that’s also a story for another day.

Back to silly season, which would be “Saturday Night Live” material if it weren’t so sad. Trump used the sound bite “build that wall” during the campaign. Catchy, but clearly a metaphor for securing the border against illegal immigration. It ducked the real issue of what a comprehensive immigration policy should look like, but it did make the point that without border security, nothing else is feasible. That was the correct position. Real border security is comprised of multiple pieces (barriers, intel, border guards, drones, sensors, etc.) in addition to the enforcement of laws against hiring illegal immigrants and better clarity in what is meant by asylum, what the poorly drafted laws really say about catch and release, detention, prosecution, and the stopping of sanctuary cities, among other items. The immigration system has been a mess for decades, and the spat about “wall funding” is a rounding error. If the government were doing its job, it would stop focusing on minutia, get serious about scrapping the whole disastrous system, and design something that makes sense.

It shouldn’t be that hard. First, secure the border by whatever means the experts say is necessary to eliminate illegal immigration. Sure, have a wall as part of it, but do it right. Either we are a sovereign country or we are not, and if the opposition to securing the border does not get on board, it needs to explain exactly what it would accept. Trump is playing PR by stressing that terrorists, criminals, drugs, and gangs are the main reasons to secure the border, but he doesn’t need to gild the lily. Keeping those groups out is fine, but simply defining who we want in and the process for doing so should be enough. That’s what sovereign countries do.

Then redo the process for legal immigration that recognizes the need for seasonal labor and work visas, embraces those who add to society, and makes it prohibitively costly for employers to defy the rules. As an aside, there was a frightening study that came out about a month ago that showed a continued decline in the U.S. fertility rate along with doubts (based on societal trends) that it will recover. If nothing else, that should put in neon lights the need to revise our legal immigration policies to account for this reality.

If those steps can be taken, then we can turn our attention to DACA and the millions of those already in the country illegally. I’ve forever been in favor of dealing with those separately. The DACA kids are here through no fault of their own and were essentially invited by our policies encouraging parents to bring them along. I would find a way to give these kids a path to citizenship. Make the hoops significant, and extend it out for a long time, but find a way. It’s fair. Illegals are another matter. True, they too were essentially “invited” because we looked the other way for decades, but they are adults who deliberately broke the law. We need to balance those considerations and come up with a difficult, lengthy path for those here already to come out of the shadows and, if they meet tough criteria, be granted legal status. Any further path to citizenship would need them to go through the same hoops as new applicants and be sent to the back of the line. That’s also fair.

Confidence in the institutions of government is disappearing, and that’s not a good thing. Our inability to deal with the immigration issue is Exhibit A. Sound bites to the base are not good enough. Nor is the hypocrisy of claiming that walls are immoral and uneconomic when the same folks voted for a bigger wall a few years ago and think the current wall is just fine. This should not be a political game. Dealing with the border is among the few musts of a viable government, and it is far more important than debating the semantics of a “wall” and who gets the blame for a “shutdown”.

Term limits would help, but absent that, we need to deal with what we’ve got.

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