Guest Commentary

Shutdown reality: Facts versus myths in the debate over immigration

When I arrived in our nation’s capital 14 years ago, I learned that one quickly becomes well-versed in the Washingtonian dialect of “spin” — a practice that can be defined as presenting facts in the most persuasive light possible. A more nefarious description is propaganda. When debating policy, individuals use the facts necessary to present their argument in the most attractive way. But central to any debate that can bring a meaningful outcome is the presentation of evidence-based facts.

I have tried my best to sift through the political weeds of punchlines and selling points to look strictly at the facts, but the clear waters of reality have become more muddied each year. And no debate more clearly exemplifies the two separate realities than the debate over immigration.

As I write this, the partial government shutdown is about to enter its third week. There are more than 800,000 federal workers across the nation, and more than 14,000 in Missouri who have not received paychecks. Roughly half of them are being forced to continue working without pay. Visitor centers and amenities at our national parks are closed. U.S. Agriculture Department checks for farmers are not being sent. Housing and Urban Development rental assistance checks are not available, and trash continues to pile up at federal facilities — all of this because the president has made the choice to shut down the government over a campaign pledge that has now become a policy dispute.

The president himself has accepted the blame, saying last month he would be “proud to shut down the government.” The fact is that a large segment of the American population is facing traumatic situations so the president can gin up fear and hysteria over a made-up crisis.

My background compels me to seek comfort and acceptance for those enduring grief and fleeing violence. For in my religious tradition, the Lord commanded me to love thy neighbor as I do myself. But I also oppose the president’s request for a wall across the southern border because — factually — it would not combat the problem it is intended to address.

▪ Myth 1: Let’s start with the claim that a wall along the southern border would stem the flow of nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists that were stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. As NBC reported earlier this week, only six of those 4,000 individuals came from the southern border. More came from Canada, and the majority came into the country via airports. Why should Congress invest $25-30 billion to build a wall when most of the threats are not coming from our southern border? We shouldn’t — and we won’t, because it makes no fiscal sense.

▪ Myth 2: The wall would stem the flow of drugs into the country. In fact, most illicit drugs come through legal points of entry in personally-owned vehicles. That’s not my opinion. That is a fact provided by the administration’s own Drug Enforcement Agency.

▪ Myth 3: President Donald Trump would have you believe that illegal immigration is a crisis never before seen in American history, with hordes of invaders pouring across the border. But in reality, illegal border crossings are down 80 percent since 2001, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Are there surveillance systems that need to be updated and more personnel needed to improve our border security? No question. The real question is: What is the most cost-effective and efficient way to protect our borders? When looking at the facts, a wall across the southern border is undoubtedly not the answer.

These are just a few of the most basic facts about border security in the United States. Not my opinion. Not my beliefs. Facts. Unfortunately, the president seemingly cares for facts and truth as little as he does the federal workers who are struggling while he attempts to achieve a political “win.”

I pray that the president and Congress will go back to legislating based on fact and not fear. I pray that we can look beyond our differences and beyond the tribalism that has calcified our government to reopen federal agencies and solve this disagreement over border security.

Emanuel Cleaver II represents Missouri's 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.