UPDATE: On Tuesday evening, the House of Representatives pass legislation to avert a shutdown of the federal government that was set for Thursday. It offers a full year of funding for the Defense Department, and a stopgap for the rest of the federal government. In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans are in discussions over a long-term spending  bill.

During a White House roundtable discussion on immigration, Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen said that border authorities cannot refuse entry to members of criminal organizations, such as the narco-terrorist MS-13, who infiltrate U.S. borders or show up at ports of entry. “When they come to our border I have to let them in,” Secretary Nielsen said on Tuesday. “This is unique to our country, and it’s got to change,” President Donald Trump observed.

President Trump has frequently highlighted the criminal activities of MS-13 as part of his demands for effective immigration reform by Congress. At the roundtable, White House aides illustrated Trump’s case for more effective immigration policy with stories and images of the victims of MS-13 violence. For his part, Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan called the gang “savages.” Cronan said, “The reason MS-13 is so massive in our country, the reason why they have 10,000 members in 40 states and the District of Columbia, is because many of those gang members have illegally entered our country.” He concluded, “MS-13 can simply replenish its jail population by sending more and more members across our borders.”

The Democratic National Committee and Democrats have denounced Trump for linking immigrants to MS-13 as part of the discussion over immigration policy. The DNC called Trump a “fearmonger,” according to The Washington Times, and that he is “falsely [conflating] MS-13 gang members with undocumented immigrants.” During his State of the Union address in January, Trump introduced two families sitting in the congressional galleries whose daughter had been hacked to death by members of MS-13, thus sparking accusations by Democrats of pandering.

However, Homeland Security Investigations services suggest that 30 percent of MS-13 members arrested in recent operations illegally entered the country as part of a surge of migrants and Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) that overwhelmed border security near the end of the Obama administration. According to DHS investigators, 40,810 UAC were granted initial entry in 2017. Over half of these are male minors ages 13 to 17 from Central America, where MS-13 is based. DHS fears that MS-13 views these immigrants as potential recruits for its criminal activities. 

Trump said that MS-13 “recruits through our broken immigration system, violating our borders, and it just comes right through, whenever they want to come through they come through.” He said, “It's much tougher now, since we've been there, but we need much better border mechanisms and much better border security.” Repeating a theme from his campaign, Trump said, “We need the wall. We're going to get the wall. If we don't have the wall, we're never going to solve this problem. ... Without the wall, it's not going to work.”

During the roundtable, President Trump said he would welcome another government shutdown unless Democrats agree to major immigration reform. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are currently discussing military spending even while there are also negotiations over the overall federal government spending authorization. Trump may have been referring to the Thursday deadline to pass new federal spending authorization. Republicans want to extend federal spending authority to March 23 with a stop-gap measure. Trump said at the Tuesday roundtable, “If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don't want safety, and unrelated – but still related – they don't want to take care of our military, then shut it down. We'll go with another shutdown.”

“I’d love to see a shutdown if we can’t get this stuff taken care of,” the president said. Last week, Trump offered what the White House has characterized as a “very generous” proposal to boost border security, build a border wall, and provide for some limits on legal immigration. Trump’s proposal would also provide amnesty for 1.8 million illegal immigrants, the so-called “Dreamers.” Democrats were not satisfied with the proposal, and are demanding amnesty for 3.2 million illegal immigrants. 

Also, Democrats are digging their heels in about Trump’s enforcement demands. As there has been little progress in negotiations despite a looming March 5 deadline for the 890,000 recipients of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy (which provides work permits and temporary halt to deportation proceedings), Trump has refused to legislation that does not include enforcement provisions. He said on Tuesday about the Friday deadline for a federal budget, “Then shut it down. We’ll go with another shutdown.” He added, 'I think the Democrats don't want to make a deal, but we'll find out.' 

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), who represents the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC responded, saying, “We don't need a government shutdown on this.” Trump told her, “We are not getting support from the Democrats.”  

Comstock’s district encompasses suburban Fairfax County and parts of the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. Representing a district where live many federal bureaucrats and which voted for Hillary Clinton, Comstock appealed to the president. “I would implore, since I live just over the [Potomac] River … We don't need a government shutdown on this. I think both sides have learned that a government shutdown was bad.” 

Earlier on Tuesday, Trump touted popular support for immigration reform. He tweeted, "Polling shows nearly 7 in 10 Americans support an immigration reform package that includes DACA, fully secures the border, ends chain migration & cancels the visa lottery." He added, "If D[emocrat]s oppose this deal, they aren't serious about DACA–they just want open borders."

According to a Harvard-Harris poll, 65 per cent of registered voters back 'a congressional deal that gives undocumented immigrants brought here by their parents work permits and a path to citizenship in exchange for increasing merit preference over preference for relatives, eliminating the diversity visa lottery, and funding barrier security on the U.S.-Mexico border." These are the four pillars of Trump's immigration proposal. 



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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