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What Might a Deal to Protect Dreamers Look Like?

Daily Intelligencer logo Daily Intelligencer 9/14/2017 Ed Kilgore
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Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Some supporters of more generous immigration policies were encouraged when the president coupled his partial revocation of Barack Obama’s DACA protection for Dreamers with expressions of support for congressional action to, in his tweeted words, “legalize DACA.” This sort of talk seemed to support the theory that Trump found DACA objectionable not on its merits, but on constitutional grounds as an executive usurpation of congressional prerogatives. Indeed, Trump allowed that he might revisit the issue himself if Congress did not act within the six months before his revocation is fully implemented. And most surprisingly, his congressional affairs director this week said the president didn’t necessarily view border-wall funding as a prerequisite for progress on Dreamers.

So speculation quickly spread that Congress might, with Trump’s own encouragement, return to some version of the long-pending DREAM (for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act — the bill providing a path to citizenship for young people with clean records brought across the border illegally by their parents that inspired DACA in the first place.

But that’s not politically realistic on a stand-alone basis. And indeed, Trump’s talk about Congress coming to the rescue of Dreamers was probably just the public reflection of many months of private discussions among Republicans about making Dreamers a bargaining chip in a broader immigration policy deal that would give Trump and his allies some big concessions.

So what will the White House and the GOP’s immigration skeptics on Capitol Hill demand in order to support a law protecting the Dreamers?

Congressional Democrats were quick to offer a deal whereby border-security enhancements might be pared with a DREAM Act — but were equally quick to rule out border-wall funding as a component of the deal. Congressional Republicans favoring new restrictions on legal immigration unsurprisingly demanded their proposals get thrown into the mix. And not all conservatives are in accord with Trump’s apparent willingness to take border-wall funding off the table.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because deals to legalize undocumented immigrants in exchange for more border security or other steps to tighten the immigration system were the essence of the interminable and ultimately futile stabs at “comprehensive immigration reform” that failed during the Bush and Obama administrations. In the end, the unwillingness of a significant segment of conservatives in Congress and around the country to accept amnesty killed these efforts. The question now is whether Dreamers are a sufficiently small and sympathetic class of beneficiaries to justify a deal.

Trump may have crossed the Rubicon to that position, but the prophet of Trumpism, former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, clearly hasn’t:

In his extensive interview with Charlie Rose for 60 Minutes, Breitbart News Executive Chairman Steve Bannon was unequivocal in his opposition to legislative amnesty to replace DACA.

“[T]here’s no path to citizenship, no path to a green card and — no amnesty. Amnesty is non-negotiable,” Steve Bannon said to Rose in his first TV interview since departing from the Trump administration and returning to Breitbart News last month.

All in all, prospects for an immigration deal are higher than they’ve been since 2015, but this is an issue that seems to chronically generate false optimism. At a minimum, Trump will need to maintain a rare consistency if he is indeed willing to accept amnesty for Dreamers. One gesture back in the direction of his savage 2016 campaign rhetoric exulting in the idea of mass deportations could blow up a deal before you can say “America First.”



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