White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller discusses U.S. immigration policy in August at the White House in Washington. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters) 

The most recent PBS-Marist poll, like other polling, confirms that support for the beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is stunningly high. Fifty-eight percent of voters want “dreamers” to be able to stay and pursue citizenship; another 25 percent want them to stay but get only legal status. A measly 12 percent want them deported. Even 71 percent of strong Republicans and 68 percent of President Trump’s supporters want them to stay, either to pursue citizenship or legal status.

So naturally, Republicans and Democrats alike should be scrambling to work out a solution, right? Well, Democrats have a few ideas — ranging from a “clean” Dream Act bill to an approach that would legalize dreamers but also include new border security measures (but not building a wall). A group of conservative Republicans has come around, offering a slightly tougher bill, the SUCCEED Act, which the sponsors describe as containing “more rigorous requirements for undocumented children to earn and keep legal status [than the Dream Act] … [and] deters illegal immigration, prevents chain migration, and makes paying off tax liabilities a requirement for keeping legal status.” Moreover, sponsors Sens. Thom Tillis (N.C.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) insist that the SUCCEED Act “must be paired with a border security solution in order to help stop illegal immigration, human trafficking, and drug trafficking along our borders.”

So really, it’s just a matter of working out the differences between a slightly more lenient DACA fix and a slightly tougher one, right? Oh, no. From the anti-immigrant quarters of the White House — which grossly underestimated how unpopular throwing out dreamers would be — comes the threat of what would amount to a “poison pill.” Politico reports:

The White House is finalizing a plan to demand hard-line immigration reforms in exchange for supporting a fix on the DACA program, according to three people familiar with the talks — an approach that risks alienating Democrats and even many Republicans, potentially tanking any deal.

The White House proposal is being crafted by Stephen Miller, the administration’s top immigration adviser, and includes cutting legal immigration by half over the next decade, an idea that’s already been panned by lawmakers in both parties.

No Democrats and only some Republicans would ever go along with slashing legal immigration. (Miller might want to check with the Treasury Department, which would tell him that such a move would undo some or all of the growth obtained from tax reform, if it ever passes.) Why then suggest something so outlandish that makes negotiations even harder?

A senior Senate Democratic aide told me, “If the President really puts this in Stephen Miller’s hands, it’s a sure sign he’s captured by a xenophobic and reactionary base, and not serious about working across the aisle to protect the Dreamers.”

Miller’s move may be a sop to the hard-line anti-immigrant crowd, a way of signaling that the president, gosh, really does want to do more for the white-grievance crowd. Alternatively, it may be a genuine effort to wreck a deal, which would leave Miller’s boss quite distressed and unable to make good on his promise to take care of the dreamers.

No sooner had word leaked out about Miller’s stunt than Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), no squishy moderate on immigration, told Miller, in essence, to butt out. The Hill reported:

Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Congress should have a “bigger debate” about what the country’s levels of legal immigration should be — separate from a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“We ought to be narrowly focused on the DACA fix that the president’s asked us to consider … and then we can turn to these other issues in the next legislation,” he told reporters Thursday.

Cornyn said he supports “merit-based immigration” but “the most immediate thing we can do is to address the DACA situation. And I think the most logical way forward is to tie that to border security and interior enforcement.”

If Cornyn and Republicans want to get DACA off their agenda and get back to things such as tax reform, they’d be smarter to fix DACA sooner rather than later. The longer the delay, the more likely the anti-immigrant crowd is to throw sand in the gears and make a final deal that much harder.