Democrats are dismissing President Donald Trump’s list of conditions for any deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi complaining that Trump’s “list includes the wall, which was explicitly ruled out of the negotiations.”
Here’s a better idea for Democrats: Instead of rejecting Trump’s demands, up the ante.
Senate Minority Leader Schumer and House Minority Leader Pelosi should tell Trump that they would be open to the items on his list — including the border wall — if he would agree to legalize not just the “dreamers” but also the vast majority of illegal immigrants who have not committed crimes.
During his campaign, Trump said over and over that he wanted to find a way for most illegal immigrants to secure legal status. The “bad ones” had to go, Trump said, but the “good ones” would be allowed to leave and then return in an “expedited” fashion. In a 2015 interview with CNN, Trump said, “I would get people out and then have an expedited way of getting them back into the country so they can be legal. … I want to move ‘em out, and we’re going to move ‘em back in and let them be legal. … I actually have a big heart. Something that nobody knows.”
As I have pointed out, this is a policy called “touchback,” which was proposed in 2007 by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. Under Hutchison’s plan, illegal immigrants who had not committed crimes would return to their home countries and obtain a special “Z visa” that would allow them to re-enter the United States and work here indefinitely. Her amendment lost narrowly, 53 to 45, but it received votes from five Democrats — including Claire McCaskill of Mo and Jon Tester of Montana, two senators up for reelection next year in states Trump won by double digits. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R.-South Carolina, an immigration reform proponent, had his own version of touchback, too.
The New York Times editorial page declared at the time that “if a touchback provision is manageable and reassures people that illegal immigrants are indeed going to the back of the line, then it will be defensible.” And a 2007 poll of illegal immigrants found that 63 percent said they would voluntarily go home under a touchback law that allowed them to return with legal status.
So if Democrats are smart, they will offer Trump this deal: He can have his wall and the other border security measures on his list, in exchange for a touchback plan he has already endorsed.
In politics, this is called a win-win: Trump gets to build his “big, beautiful wall” and claim that he got Democrats to back down and approve it. Democrats get their long-held goal of permanent legal status for all non-criminal illegal immigrants currently in the country.
Trump could hardly say no to such an offer: After all, touchback was his idea. He campaigned on it. How can you turn down an offer that gives you virtually everything you asked for?
And what would the Democrats have to concede? They would have to let Trump build his wall. So what? There’s nothing inherently wrong with a border wall. In 2006, Schumer, then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and 23 other Senate Democrats voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which required the Department of Homeland Security to build two layers of reinforced fencing along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats are dug in against a wall today only because Trump wants it. Are Democrats so determined to deny Trump a victory that they would refuse to trade a wall in exchange for permanent legal status for nearly 11 million people?
There would be many difficult details to hammer out in such a deal. But if Trump gets his wall, I suspect much of the rest of his list is negotiable.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said, “If you can’t solve a problem, enlarge it.” That is what Democrats should do in response to Trump’s list of immigration demands. The only reason not to cut a deal is if Democrats care less about finding a solution than they do about having the issue of illegal immigration to campaign on. And that may very well be the case. When Obama was elected president in 2008, Democrats controlled the White House and the House of Representatives, and had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, yet they took zero action on immigration reform.
Now they have a chance. Just as only Nixon could go to China, it may be that only Trump can cut an immigration deal that trades border security for legalization. There is only one question: Is the Democrats’ hatred of Trump so great that they can’t bring themselves to seize the opportunity?
Marc Thiessen is a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and former chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush.