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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Even solution to a more credible Trump 'emergency' is work in progress

President Donald Trump on Sunday.

President Donald Trump on Sunday. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

President Donald Trump talks about a border "emergency" in a bid to light a fire under Congress and score billions of dollars for barriers.

But sudden crises are not the same as long-term problems, of which migration across the Mexican border is an example.

Illegal immigration to the United States has persisted for decades. Past presidents took some action, including deportations, exemptions from deportation, stepped-up labor enforcement, and many miles of border fencing. Comprehensive reforms and compromises on the topic have eluded Congress since the George W. Bush administration.

In October 2017, Trump declared deadly opioid abuse a public health emergency. That year, opioid overdoses killed a record 70,000 people in the United States, making this a better example of a true emergency.

Three months ago, lawmakers crafted and Trump signed a bill targeting the problem. The legislation drew more broad-based and bipartisan support than any of the president's current proposals on immigration.

The law sets aside funds for states and federal agencies to better control prescriptions and improve access to addiction treatment. It loosens restrictions on Medicaid and Medicare coverage. It also aims to establish recovery centers, expand research into nonaddictive painkillers and crack down on illegal imports of fentanyl.

On immigration, Trump enjoys no congressional consensus. Nor has he waded into crafting a compromise. Without the legislative branch, Trump can do only so much of what he wishes, either with or without an "emergency" declaration.

Predecessor Barack Obama moved unilaterally to allow those brought here illegally as children to stay in the United States. Trump canceled that move but said he supported a solution for so-called "Dreamers" act through legislation. Nothing of the kind followed.

House Democrats seem to agree that the only emergency is the one Trump created by forcing a partial shutdown of the federal government.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn't exactly been pounding the drum for Trump's cause. He said after Election Day: "We’re certainly going to try help the president achieve what he’d like to do with the wall and border security."

But McConnell declined at the time to comment on the Trump-hyped migrant "caravan" in Mexico, saying it wasn't a legislative issue. Last month, the Senate under McConnell approved a bill to fund government agencies until February. McConnell expressed no concern about a wall "emergency." That measure died in the final throes of the House's GOP majority.

National emergencies have not been all that uncommon over the decades. They included terrorist attacks, cyberattacks and hostage situations. But the National Emergencies Act of 1976 isn't too specific about what fits the description, so legal and procedural questions linger.

If Trump gets his $5 billion for barriers, fences or walls along the southern border, does it all get built quickly? If so, does all illegal trafficking of people and contraband soon cease?

More likely any progress would be slow and plodding, perhaps like the cross-partisan drive to curb opioid abuse.

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