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We need a high wall with a big gate

With Trump using immigration simply for political gain, Democrats need to be the adults and offer a realistic, comprehensive approach.

Kamala Harris, the Democratic senator from California, recently raised eyebrows when she asked Ronald Vitiello, President Trump’s nominee to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whether he appreciated the “perception” that ICE spreads “fear and intimidation” among immigrants the way the Ku Klux Klan did among blacks.

Harris carefully worded her question around the “perception” of ICE — and it was raised in part because Vitiello had once shamefully tweeted that Democrats were “the NeoKlanist party.” Nevertheless, with Harris a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, Republican media pounced on her with variations of: “Hey voters, get this: Democrats think the ICE officers protecting you from illegal immigrants are like the K.K.K. You gonna vote for that?”

ICE does seem to have a bad culture, but it is not the K.K.K. At the same time, I don’t think the Democratic Party is just for open borders. Alas, though, I’m also not sure what exactly is the party’s standard on immigration — and questions like Harris’s leave it open to demonization.

Since Republicans have completely caved to Trump’s craven exploitation of immigration as a wedge issue, the country, as usual, needs the Democrats to be the adults and put forward a realistic, comprehensive approach to immigration, which now requires two parts.

The first is a way to think about the border and the second is a way to think about all the issues beyond the border — issues that are pushing migrants our way. You cannot think seriously about the first without thinking seriously about the second, and if you don’t, this week’s scenes of Customs and Border Protection officers firing tear gas to keep out desperate migrants near Tijuana will get a lot worse.

Regarding the border, the right place for Democrats to be is for a high wall with a big gate.

Democrats won’t do as well as they can nationallywithout assuring Americans that they’re committed to securing our borders; people can’t just walk in. But the country won’t do as well as it can in the 21st century unless it remains committed to a very generous legal immigration policy — and a realistic pathway to citizenship for illegals already here — to attract both high-energy, low-skilled workers and high-I.Q. risk takers.

They have been the renewable energy source of the American dream — and our secret advantage over China.

But thinking beyond the borderis where Democrats can really distinguish themselves; it’s where Trump has been recklessly AWOL.

This is how we got to where we are today: During the 19th and 20th centuries, the world shifted from being governed by large empires in many regions to being governed by independent nation-states. And the 50 years after World War II were a great time to be a weak little nation-state.

Why? Because there were two superpowers competing for your affection by throwing foreign aid at you, building your army, buying your cheap goods and educating your college students; climate change was moderate; populations were still under control in the developing world; no one had a cellphone to easily organize movements against your government; and China was not in the World Trade Organization, so everyone could be in textiles and other low-wage industries.

All of that switched in the early 21st century: Climate-driven extreme weather — floods, droughts, heat and cold — on top of man-made deforestation began to hammer many countries, especially their small-scale farmers. This happened right as developing-world populations exploded. Africa went from 140 million in 1900 to one billion in 2010 to a projected 2.5 billion by 2050.

Syria grew from three million people in 1950 to over 22 million today, which, along with droughts, totally stressed its water resources. Guatemala, the main source of the migrant caravan heading our way, has been ravaged by deforestation thanks to illegal logging, farmers cutting trees for firewood and drug traffickers creating landing strips and smuggling trails.

A satellite map just released by University of Cincinnati geography researchers demonstrated that nearly a quarter of the earth’s habitable surface changed between just 1992 and 2015, primarily from forests to agriculture, from grasslands to deserts and from wetlands to urban concrete.

Meanwhile, the internet has enabled citizens to easily compare their living standards with those in Paris or Phoenix — and find a human trafficker to take them there. Also, China joined the W.T.O., dominating low-wage industries, and the end of the Cold War meant no superpower wanted to touch your country, because all it would win was a bill.

So it’s now much harder to be an average little country. The most frail of them are hemorrhaging people, like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Sudan and most every nation in sub-Saharan Africa. Others — Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya — have just fractured.

Together, they’re creating vast zones of disorder, and many people want to get out of them into any zone of order, particularly America or Europe, triggering nationalist-populist backlashes.

Why? Because there were two superpowers competing for your affection by throwing foreign aid at you, building your army, buying your cheap goods and educating your college students; climate change was moderate; populations were still under control in the developing world; no one had a cellphone to easily organize movements against your government; and China was not in the World Trade Organization, so everyone could be in textiles and other low-wage industries.

All of that switched in the early 21st century: Climate-driven extreme weather — floods, droughts, heat and cold — on top of man-made deforestation began to hammer many countries, especially their small-scale farmers. This happened right as developing-world populations exploded. Africa went from 140 million in 1900 to one billion in 2010 to a projected 2.5 billion by 2050.

Syria grew from three million people in 1950 to over 22 million today, which, along with droughts, totally stressed its water resources. Guatemala, the main source of the migrant caravan heading our way, has been ravaged by deforestation thanks to illegal logging, farmers cutting trees for firewood and drug traffickers creating landing strips and smuggling trails.

A satellite map just released by University of Cincinnati geography researchers demonstrated that nearly a quarter of the earth’s habitable surface changed between just 1992 and 2015, primarily from forests to agriculture, from grasslands to deserts and from wetlands to urban concrete.

Meanwhile, the internet has enabled citizens to easily compare their living standards with those in Paris or Phoenix — and find a human trafficker to take them there. Also, China joined the W.T.O., dominating low-wage industries, and the end of the Cold War meant no superpower wanted to touch your country, because all it would win was a bill.

So it’s now much harder to be an average little country. The most frail of them are hemorrhaging people, like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Sudan and most every nation in sub-Saharan Africa. Others — Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya — have just fractured.

Together, they’re creating vast zones of disorder, and many people want to get out of them into any zone of order, particularly America or Europe, triggering nationalist-populist backlashes.

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