President Trump’s sweeping legislative framework for an immigration compromise has been deemed dead on arrival by many on both sides of the issue on Capitol Hill. The White House is trying to walk a very fine line between the restrictionist demands of some GOP lawmakers and the more moderate and reformist approach of most Democrats and a handful of Republicans. It won’t work.
The blueprint is too extreme to be taken seriously. It includes the one measure that has the support of 87 percent of Americans — legalization for up to 1.8 million so-called Dreamers, unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. But it also includes the biggest cuts to legal immigration in nearly 100 years. It also requests $25 billion for an unnecessary border wall and other security measures, like appropriating money to build up a deportation force. Just as problematic is the proposed 40 to 50 percent reduction in legal immigration by restricting family migration and ending the diversity visa lottery program. The plan also calls for eliminating protections — which the White House calls “legal loopholes” — that allow fleeing refugees, including unaccompanied minors caught at the border, to pursue asylum claims in America.
Yet the biggest obstacle to the White House proposal is the president himself. Trump has debased the basic norms of public policy-making so much that dealing with him becomes a waste of time. Over dinner last fall, Trump told “Chuck and Nancy” they had a deal to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in exchange for a border security package. The very next day, Trump reneged on his promise and said no deal had been struck. Earlier this month, the president promised to “take the heat” for enacting comprehensive immigration reform, a deal that would have to “come from love.” Merely two days later, he walked back those comments in the infamous meeting where he allegedly made the “shithole countries” remark.
A president with such shifting positions cannot be taken seriously, and his policy prescriptions aren’t worth dealing with. Members of Congress should ignore Trump and his blueprint and continue to negotiate on their own. Any measure coming out of the House and the Senate, and then reconciled in conference committee, would probably end up having very narrow and practical reforms — namely, what everyone wants: protections for Dreamers and some measure to enhance border security.
Trump is putting the country through his absurdist Art of the Deal paces. A much better strategy would be for Capitol Hill lawmakers to just send him their own bill and effectively force his hand. Does Trump really want to own the mess that would come if he rejected legislation to keep Dreamers here? The president has forfeited any right to be trusted in serious negotiations. If Congress passes a bipartisan plan, he’ll either have to sign it, or contend with the consequences.