Politics & Policy

The Trump Offer

(Leah Millis/Reuters)

President Trump offered Democrats an immigration deal over the weekend to end the government shutdown.

It was a reasonable proposal to exchange a temporary amnesty for beneficiaries of DACA (the so-called Dreamers) and TPS (illegal immigrants who supposedly couldn’t go home because of war or natural disasters) for $5.7 billion for border barriers, $800 million for humanitarian programs at the border, some changes in asylum rules, and more border agents and immigration judges.

Nancy Pelosi rejected it out of hand, even before hearing his formal televised offer. The progressive case against the deal is that it trades something temporary, the amnesty, which would theoretically last only three years, for something permanent: the fencing at the border. But this is an argument for making a counteroffer, not for refusing to negotiate.

We look at the equities of the Trump offer differently. What our colleague Mark Krikorian says about guest workers, “there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary guest worker,” applies equally to temporary amnesties. Consider TPS, which denotes Temporary Protected Status. Immigrants have been here under this notionally temporary status for decades.

As for the fence, yes, it is built to be permanent. But getting it up in a timely manner isn’t easy given the logistical and legal challenges. So the amnesty portion of the Trump deal would almost certainly never go away, but, if Democrats win back control of Washington in 2020, they could easily turn off the funding for whatever sections of the fence haven’t yet been built.

All of this is why in the past we have called for a deal exchanging a full amnesty for Dreamers — they are going to get one eventually — for a mandatory E-Verify system to get employers to confirm that employees are legal. This would do much to turn off the jobs magnet for illegal immigration. But the debate is now in a different place.

Trump is right to try to shake something loose in the shutdown showdown. Majority leader Mitch McConnell will take up his package later in the week, forcing the Democrats to filibuster a compromise package that would reopen the government. This puts Republicans on a less defensive footing, but it won’t change the fundamental fact that Democrats hate the idea of giving Trump any kind of victory on the border barriers and believe that they have the upper hand in the political fight over the shutdown. At the moment, Trump wants a negotiation and Pelosi wants a humiliation, a clear and convincing defeat for the president.

There isn’t any downside for her, because her base fully backs her maximalist position and the media never call her out for her recalcitrance. If she were head of the Republican caucus in a confrontation with a Democratic president, obviously the coverage would be very different.

Maybe the political dynamic somehow changes. Trump, as he did in his Oval Office address and over the weekend, should definitely keep making his case. But we fear any prospective deal only gets weaker from here.



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