Federal Manager's Daily Report

Opinion | Commentary
San Ysidro, CA: The USA Mexico Border Wall seen from International Friendship Park on the US side looking towards Tijuana.

Marc Holzer, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor at Suffolk University's Institute of Public Service

The strident standoff on the government shutdown is being argued at a political level. The President’s premise, without valid and reliable facts, is that the Wall is the most effective investment in countering illegal immigration, especially by dangerous characters. The Democratic leadership, with perhaps too few facts, holds that this is the least effective means for controlling our Southern border. That argument can only be settled at a quiet professional level while the Federal government reopens; while employees, contractors, farmers and citizens start receiving checks once more; and while the economy recovers.

This is a debate of extremes, but the solution is to solve the problems that need to be solved now and allow everyone to save face and plan for the future. This means embracing a time honored, often mocked, but just as often highly effective mechanism: the bipartisan commission.


The House and Senate should pass a set of bills reopening the entire Federal government immediately, but not simply the bills just passed by the House. New legislation should also provide for the bipartisan appointment and funding of a Commission on Immigration Realities (C.I.R.), a set of experts—including civil servants who characteristically play import roles in finding solutions to these kind of politicized debates– will objectively and independently assess the full range of strategies that have been identified for controlling immigration. That assessment, due no later than six months—or mid-July at this point—would inform decisions within the FY 2020 budget beginning in October.

This study would be multidimensional and international, with a goal of prioritizing possible investments and expenditures. What have border walls or other physical barriers accomplished over the centuries, and especially in this century? What addressable conditions drive people to risk their lives and livelihoods to attempt such crossings? What do members of the Border Patrol, I.C.E. and other immigration-related services recommend as the most effective strategies and the most pressing needs for investment? What do residents of the Southern border, immigration advocacy groups and employers recommend? Have authorized funds remained unspent, placing agencies in “crisis” positions of not being able to deliver adequate custodial services? In terms of statistics, what are the undisputable numbers of immigrants who steal across the border vs. those who fly over and overstay their visas? How many illegal immigrants commit crimes and are convicted vs. those who are simply suspected? What are the statistics on wealth generated, jobs created and taxes paid by immigrants, legal and illegal? Are Americans losing jobs to foreign job applicants? Related questions can be raised by the Commission.

Our society thrives on science, facts and expertise. Many experts stand ready to answer those questions dispassionately and apolitically.

From a political perspective, the Commission’s recommendations may not end the debate. The Wall will still be a symbolic icon for the President and many of his supporters. It will still be viewed as immoral by the Democratic leadership and their allies. But it can end the Shutdown and provide a path forward now, a cooling off period until mid-Summer, and a basis for agreement in September as the next budget deadline rapidly approaches.

Marc Holzer is Distinguished Professor of Public Service at Suffolk University in Boston and a past president of the American Society for Public Administration. He can be reached at mholzer@suffolk.edu

*The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by FEDweek