Thankfully, most signs are that Democrats and immigration advocates are treating this as the knee-slapping absurdity that it is. Instead, in behind-the-scenes talks, the bare outline of a long-term plan to save the dreamers is beginning to take shape.
Later this afternoon, top Democrats are set to meet with Trump about the shutdown. Demonstrating the good faith and sincere commitment to give-and-take problem-solving that we’ve all come to expect from Trump, he set the table for this meeting by telling a series of lies about immigration, falsely claiming that much of the wall is already being built and that Mexico is already paying for it, while vastly inflating the number of undocumented immigrants in this country.
That alone is more evidence that there’s no negotiating with Trump. And let’s remember the history: A year ago, Democrats offered Trump $25 billion for his wall in exchange for legalizing the dreamers, but Stephen Miller got Trump to walk away because the deal didn’t include huge cuts to legal immigration, which is the real Trump-Miller holy grail. At present, there’s no reason for anyone to assume the right doesn’t still have this veto power over any deal that doesn’t cut legal immigration or that Trump would ever accept one.
So is there any way to save the dreamers, whose fates have been in limbo since Trump rescinded former president Barack Obama’s protections for them — known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — a move that has been challenged in court but could very well stand?
After talking to advocates and Democratic aides, here’s the strategy that’s taking shape, though it’s in very early planning stages.
The first step would be for the Democratic House majority to pass a bill protecting as many dreamers as possible — say, about 2 million of them — along with protecting people with the temporary protected status that Trump has tried to end, which is also tied up in court. The New York Times reports vaguely that House Democratic leaders have signaled to advocates that this will likely happen, and I have been told the same.
If Democrats can do that, the thinking goes, then if and when the Supreme Court rules on the fate of DACA — perhaps this summer — then Democrats will be in a stronger position. Most assume the high court will uphold Trump’s authority to end DACA. (If the court upholds DACA, all this would be rendered temporarily moot, and Trump would have to revisit ways of undoing it, but advocates are planning for its demise.)
If so, the fate of the dreamers would suddenly be thrust before Congress. And House Democrats will have already passed something protecting them.
At that point — and keep in mind, this is still very embryonic — House Democrats could try to pressure the GOP-controlled Senate to act to protect the dreamers, too. The looming 2020 elections might — repeat, might — make this a bit harder for GOP senators facing reelection to resist. In this scenario, Democrats and Republicans might make a deal on a scaled-down version of protections, such as work permits for those who were on DACA that would renew every few years.
If Democrats can get Republicans to discuss such a measure as part of a bigger, broader spending deal next fall, then there might be a wider range of things Democrats can offer Republicans to entice them. This would mean no need to even talk about Trump’s wall as part of any deal, which would likely include more border security money but with restrictions (something Democrats have offered right now).
The ideal long-term scenario would be that if this is attractive to some GOP senators, perhaps there might be some way of increasing the pressure on Trump to accept such a deal, one that might enable Trump to pretend the border security money thrown into the pot is money for his wall. If Trump balks, another alternative would be that both parties agree on something and then we hope for a Democratic president after 2020 who would sign something like it.
Of course, as Ed Kilgore notes, it’s always conceivable Trump could suddenly decide right now that he wants a deal trading wall money for protections for the dreamers. Then, Democrats would have to decide how to proceed.
But if not, Democrats will have to think about the long game. And admittedly, it’s a real long shot. There’s no telling whether GOP senators would ever accept any such deal. And even if they did, why would Miller and Trump — who walked away from a deal last time that funded his whole wall because it didn’t slash legal immigration — go for it?
Still, Democrats will control the House, and they have to act. Passing something protecting the dreamers would put them firmly on record supporting a real solution, one that is backed by nearly 80 percent of the American people.