It might have escaped your attention as the news over the past week was dominated by the horrific destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey over Texas, but Friday before last, President Donald Trump reignited the debate over immigration by pardoning controversial former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Arpaio, a one-time Arizona sheriff, is beloved by anti-immigration hardliners, and was a strong supporter of Trump during the primaries. He was prosecuted for contempt of court after he disregarded court orders to halt his crackdown on illegal immigration. In a normal weekend, Trump’s controversial pardon — which, unusually, was granted before sentencing — would have dominated the news cycle.

Since the Constitution grants the president virtually unchecked power to pardon, there’s little question that Trump’s decision was legal. While it’s fair to criticize Trump’s pardon of Arpaio as a political move designed to placate his base, presidential pardons being political is hardly unheard of: in fact, it’s an inherent part of the process. Pardons are frequently designed to either make some sort of political statement or repay supporters, rather than just to abrogate a miscarriage of justice.

Before he pardoned Arpaio, Trump had been spending the week threatening to veto any government spending bill that didn’t include funding for his border wall. Even without an ongoing major natural disaster, shutting down the government over funding for a border wall would be an enormous mistake. If Republicans in Congress went along with Trump, they’d be responsible for the shutdown without anything to show for it — Democrats would never agree to fund the wall. If they ignore his threats and pass a spending bill anyway, they might split the party heading into a crucial midterm election year.

Further complicating this picture is the likely increase in disaster aid needed after Hurricane Harvey. A multibillion-dollar aid package will likely be necessary, and unless it can somehow be divorced from a bill to fund the rest of the federal government, it would seem to be in peril from Trump’s shutdown threat. Five years ago, many Republicans opposed a multibillion-dollar aid package offered in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy striking the Northeast, and that was without immigration politics being inserted into it. If Trump torpedoes his own disaster relief bill out of a commitment to fund a border wall that he said Mexico would pay for anyway, that would be an enormous self-inflicted wound. Indeed, it would force him to break two promises at once: getting aid for Texas and building the wall.

For the moment, Trump would be wise to turn away from immigration policy and focus on helping Texas. That should be an issue that wins enormous bipartisan support, allowing the country to heal a bit after the recent partisan battles that have so bitterly divided us. It’s time for all of us to take a breather from those fights and focus on helping our fellow Americans.


When the storm is over and an aid package is passed, it may be time to return to the immigration issue. When we do, it shouldn’t be wrapped up in partisan bluster and shutdown threats. Instead, we need to recognize that neither side has the solution on their own.

We can’t fix illegal immigration just by increasing enforcement (or building a wall), nor can we wipe it away simply by throwing open our borders. As a nation, we can’t just let anyone in to the country who wants to be here. Even as one of the wealthiest nations in the world, we simply can’t afford it. Our entitlement programs and social spending has already forced us into massive debt — having wide-open borders would increase that exponentially. We need to begin to address our spending problems, not simply ignore them and hope for the best.

At the same time, we can’t just increase enforcement against illegal immigration and hope to completely eliminate it that way. Not only would it be unsuccessful, it would be expensive and risk infringing on the rights of all Americans. Neither of these approaches by themselves would win majority support in Congress, and neither would solve the problem, either.

Over the past week, we’ve witnessed an inspiring scene as Americans came together to help one other during devastating floods. It would be nice to see that same sense of spirit applied to a policy issue by leaders in Washington, instead of only popping up during a disaster. If that happened, we might be on our way towards actually solving problems, instead of just engaging in endless bickering.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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