President Trump’s planned declaration of a national emergency
on the southern border today is exactly the sort of thing that prompted many conservatives
to oppose his presidency. In declaring a national emergency based on Congress’s
failure to take action to the president’s liking, Trump sets a horrible precedent
that will probably fail to get the wall built and will certainly come back to
To begin with, there is no national security emergency. Illegal
border crossings are near a 50-year low even though the arrests of families
at the border have increased in recent months. Contrary to Trump Administration
claims, there is also no
wave of violent crime associated with immigrants, either legal or illegal. Statistically
counties are some of the safest counties in the country.
If illegal immigration didn’t constitute a national security
emergency when the number of illegal border crossings was five times the number
that we have today and it wasn’t an emergency
in the wake of the September 11 attacks, it is difficult to see how it is an
emergency today at much lower levels after 18 years in which no illegal
immigrant has been connected to a terrorist attack and more
than six times as many suspected terrorists were caught crossing the Canadian
border than entering from Mexico.
In fact, illegal immigration wasn’t considered a national emergency
for the first two years of President Trump’s presidency. In January 2018, Senate
Minority Leader Chuck
Schumer offered $25 billion for a border barrier, much more than Trump
hopes to get from his emergency declaration, but President Trump didn’t accept
the deal. If illegal immigration was a national emergency all along, then why
didn’t Trump jump at Schumer’s deal? For that matter, why didn’t Trump declare
a national emergency two months ago prior to the government shutdown? What
The answer is that Trump was beaten by the Democrats and
needs to shore up his base. The crisis is not that illegals are threatening the
security of the nation, but that Trump’s poor legislative abilities are
threatening his approval rating among Republicans.
Unfortunately, Trump’s emergency declaration is an ill-conceived plan that is borne of desperation and
is certain to blow up in his face. As with the shutdown, the president is
attempting to use an unpopular strategy to enact an unpopular policy. By two-to-one
margins, voters oppose an emergency declaration. With the beginning of the
2020 primary season only a year away, the move may spark enough division among
Republicans to encourage a primary challenge against Trump. It may also kill
Trump’s chances of winning enough moderates and independents to secure a second
The move is also unlikely to result in construction of the wall. The president isn’t
allowed to declare a national emergency to bypass Congress when legislators
choose not to act on longstanding problems. Trump’s decree will be challenged
in court and is likely to be overturned.
The worst part of the national emergency declaration is the
precedent that it sets. President Trump got his ideas on the use of executive
powers from Barack Obama but Trump is pushing the envelope of the imperial
presidency even further. The next Democrat is also likely to push the boundaries
even more and dare Congress to stop him.
There are many “national emergencies” that Democrats could
choose to act upon. They could use executive powers to tackle climate change,
assault weapons, the national debt, racism,
and who knows what. If the guiding principle is not the Constitution but the
ability to rhetorically turn a problem into a crisis, the opportunities for
executive action are limited only by Democratic imaginations.
As with President Obama, Donald Trump’s abuses of his executive
authority are more of a crisis than the problems that he purports to address.
It is past time for Congress to rein in the presidency and put limits on the
power of the chief executive to act unilaterally. If Congress doesn’t limit
President’s Trump’s abuses of power, it will be up to the voters to do so.