President Donald Trump’s tweet promising “NO MORE DACA DEAL” was an Easter gift to Democrats, letting them off the hook for their failure to seriously negotiate an immigration agreement. Rather than pulling the plug on any Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals talks, Trump should offer Democrats a simple deal: He would agree to codification of President Barack Obama’s DACA action in exchange for funding for the president’s border wall.
Earlier this year, Trump extended Democrats a remarkable offer. Instead of simply granting legal status to current DACA recipients, he would agree to a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million “dreamers” — those who were brought to the United States as children through no fault of their own — if Democrats would agree to fund his border wall, limit chain migration and get rid of the visa lottery system. It was a bold move, one that earned him scorn from many in his own base. Democrats should have seized this opportunity. Instead, they rejected it and refused to make a serious counteroffer. Their actions showed they care more about mobilizing voters in 2018 with faux outrage than they do about helping actual dreamers become American citizens.
Trump tried going big, and it didn’t work. Now he should go small.
Obama’s executive action on DACA was far more limited than what Trump proposed for dreamers, offering no path to citizenship or even permanent legal residency. It simply shielded the dreamers from deportation, allowing them to remain in the United States to work and study. But Obama’s action was arguably unlawful because it bypassed Congress — the same reason the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, program was declared unlawful by the courts. Codifying the order would indefinitely remove the threat of deportation for DACA recipients. It would get Trump the wall funding he so desperately wants. And it would save making a deal to provide a path to citizenship in exchange for reforms to our legal immigration system for another day.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota has legislation to do just that. Thune’s bill is a simple trade: It would extend the DACA program indefinitely, in exchange for $25 billion in border-security funding. This should be a no-brainer for Democrats. If they were to refuse, they would have to explain to dreamers why stopping Trump from building a wall is more important than protecting their ability to stay in the United States.
Historically, Democrats and Republicans have agreed that a nation-state needs to control its own borders. It is a national-security imperative, a law enforcement imperative and a fiscal imperative. Only in the age of Trump have Democrats taken opposition to border security to such an absurd extreme. They shouldn’t sacrifice the well-being of real people (DACA recipients) over their opposition to a symbol (the wall).
If Democrats rejected such an offer, it would expose the crass way they are holding the DACA recipients hostage for political gain. And if, by some miracle, Democrats did agree to such a deal, it would be a confidence-building step that might make further bipartisan action on immigration possible.
This should be a no-brainer for the president as well. Polls have shown that nearly 9 in 10 Americans want DACA recipients to stay, and Trump himself has repeatedly said he wants to find a way for them to remain in the country. So why would Trump choose to take responsibility for the failure to reach a DACA deal that would let them stay, rather than keeping the blame right where it belongs — with Democrats?
After Trump’s “no deal” tweet, Democrats were quick to blame Trump. Sen. Kamala D. Harris, D-California, responded on Twitter by declaring “this Administration doesn’t want a solution for Dreamers. They want red meat for their base.” It’s ironic, but that is precisely the Democrats’ immigration strategy. Trump should call them on it, by making them an offer they can’t refuse.
Marc A. Thiessen is a columnist for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter, @marcthiessen. Charles Krauthammer is on medical leave.
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