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'Why Are They So Terrible at This?': Democrats Reportedly Plan to Offer Trump Billions for So-Called 'Smart Wall'

The "counteroffer" by House Democratic leaders comes as immigrant rights groups are calling on the party to reject any funding for the president's anti-immigrant agenda

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) looks on as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) talks to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) during a press conference on Capitol Hill. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

As immigrant rights groups pressure Democrats to refuse to offer President Donald Trump any money for his anti-immigrant agenda, House Democratic leaders are reportedly preparing to release a plan on Thursday that would provide billions of dollars in funding for more Border Patrol agents, new drones, and other so-called "border security improvements" if Trump agrees to reopen the government first.

"Now is the time to truly say no to Trump's wall: no to $5 billion, no to $2.1 billion, no to $1.6 billion, no to $1.375 billion. And to reject any additional funding for detention beds, ICE and Border Patrol agents, or other harmful enforcement."
—Immigrant rights coalition

While the plan would not include any funding for Trump's physical wall, the Democratic proposal—which has yet to be finalized—is expected to offer billions of dollars for border surveillance technology that House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) called a "smart wall."

"If you look at all the things that we are proposing, more judges, more border patrol, additional technology, these are the kinds of things that we are going to be putting forth," Clyburn told reporters on Wednesday. "And I think that they can be done using the figure that the president has put on the table, if his $5.7 billion is about border security, then we see ourselves fulfilling that request only doing it with what I like to call using a 'smart wall.'"

"Walls are primitive—what we need to do is have border security," Clyburn added. "Use technology, use scanners, use x-ray equipment."

Progressives were quick to object to the Democrats' proposal.

"Why are they so terrible at this?" asked Vox's Dave Roberts.

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As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, privacy advocates have strongly objected to any such "smart wall"—which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently called a "technological wall"—on the grounds that it would seriously endanger civil liberties.

Fight for the Future declared in a petition that the "smart wall" backed by Democratic leaders "may seem appealing in light of Trump's bizarre plan to build a costly and unnecessary wall, but in reality—increasing border surveillance is a nefarious move that widely threatens the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

"Drop your plan for a 'technological wall,' or increased surveillance, at the border," the group wrote, directly addressing the Democratic Party. "The U.S. government's dragnet surveillance programs at the border are already out of control and unconstitutional. We demand Congressional review and oversight, not expansion."

According to Politico, Pelosi is planning to unveil House Democrats' new "border security" proposal Thursday night, following a scheduled Senate vote on two competing bills to reopen the government.

While the full details of the Democratic "counteroffer" are not public, the Washington Post reported that the funding offered in the plan is likely to be "higher than the levels Democrats have supported in the past, which have ranged from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion."

"Some Democrats suggested they would even be willing to meet Trump's request for $5.7 billion—as long as it goes for technology and other improvements, not the physical wall the president is seeking," the Post noted, pointing to remarks by Clyburn and other top Democrats.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Democrats are "prepared to spend a very substantial sum of money because we share the view that our borders need to be secure."

In a letter to Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) last month, a coalition of dozens of immigrant rights groups urged Democrats to reject all funding for new Border Patrol agents and any other central components of Trump's anti-immigrant agenda.

"Now is the time to truly say no to Trump's wall: no to $5 billion, no to $2.1 billion, no to $1.6 billion, no to $1.375 billion. And to reject any additional funding for detention beds, ICE and Border Patrol agents, or other harmful enforcement," the groups wrote.

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