On Thursday national security adviser John Bolton and White House chief of staff John Kelly got in a shouting match over immigration. At the heart of the disagreement was the best way to cut the flow of migrants attempting to enter the U.S. legally and illegally at the southern border.
But stemming the tide of immigration will take time - and the few weeks until November 6th are hardly enough.
With midterm elections just around the corner, the president is ramping up the tough talk on border security and chants of “build the wall” that helped propel him to victory in 2016. He is betting that the same strategy will work to keep Washington Red.
The only problem is that for all of the president's talk and tough policies, immigrants keep coming. Recent but yet-to-be released DHS statistics show that 16,658 family members were apprehended by Border Patrol agents in September. That represents about an 80 percent increase from July. And typically, increased apprehensions indicate that more people are slipping through as well.
[Also read: We asked the Pentagon about Trump's border threat. The response: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯]
And then there's the new caravan of between 3,000 and 4,000 is currently working its way north from Honduras.
That puts Trump in a tough spot. He wants to claim that his administration is doing a good job on immigration and have news and statistics to back up claims like press secretary Sarah Sanders’ statement on Thursday: “our administration is doing a great job on the border.”
The real solution to cutting down on illegal immigration, however, has little to do with domestic polices or sending armies to the border, or Democrats funding migrants — all referenced by Trump on Twitter. The most important factor is stability in the countries that migrants flee from.
As long as people are so desperate to get out that they risk their lives to get to the U.S., the U.S. will have an illegal immigration problem. That means that Kelly, who has argued against Trump’s proposals to cut foreign aid to help those governments and their citizens, is right. That aid is a key part to creating stable government and societies making staying a far better option than leaving.
Helping Honduras and other countries fix problems like violence and corruption is actually really difficult and takes a great deal of time and effort. Even if Trump pours aid into these countries today, it would be years before results could be seen in numbers trying to cross the border.
That makes it a tough sell for the election especially as talk of the caravan and the numbers from September are fresh in the minds of voters.
If Trump, however, is serious about preventing immigration he’d do well to listen to Kelly and recognize that immigration policy has few short term solutions is instead based on long term structural changes the deal with the issue at it origin rather than applying the band-aid of greater border security.