If Donald Trump wished to make a mega deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, or even put an end to illegal immigration as he promised, he certainly had viable choices.
The only way to blow that opportunity would be to cross the one and only political red line that could destroy his political coalition and career by insulting the intelligence of his base and reneging on his past immigration promises.
No Amnesty, Some Deportations, and Lots of Green-Cards?
Trump could give fence-sitting congressional Republicans an opening. They could institutionalize, clean up, and legalize aspects of the plainly unconstitutional Obama DACA program, but offer only the opportunity of legal residence (not amnesty with a “path to citizenship”). In exchange, Republicans could demand clear requisites for the issuing of a green card:
1) No past criminal convictions;
2) Verifiable proof of U.S. residence for, say, over a year (to preclude those who would flood across the border at the scent of amnesty);
3) Evidence that the applicant was either in school or gainfully employed and not on public assistance.
Liberals would object—given that they privately concede there are thousands among the 1-2 million “Dreamers” who are not, as they like to infer in their rhetoric, vital to the defense industry, Google techies, or Ivy League engineers, but instead have been convicted of crimes, are not working, or are living on public assistance.
More conservative Republicans would sign on to that filtered green-card concession—if in exchange Trump obtained E-Verify, an end to sanctuary cities and chain migration, deportation of non-qualifiers, newly defined rules for legal immigration, and completion of the border wall.
Open Borders Were No Accident
A compromise like that might have made it through the Republican-controlled House and Senate, but it would never have won Democratic support. The idea of any buy-in from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) or Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for more stringent immigration controls is absurd.
Why? Because whereas most Republicans do not believe in deporting every illegal alien, most Democrats do not believe in deporting any illegal alien. They cannot, given that the party long ago mortgaged its soul to its own identity politics radical base—and to the idea that progressives could obtain political power by waiting for demographics to favor them when they could not otherwise persuade voters politically.
Democrats know well that the qualifications to be included in DACA and be named a “Dreamer” are rhetorical constructs that have never been defined and never would be audited.
Deportables may be a small minority of the 1-2 million DACA cohort, but that translates nonetheless into tens of thousands of young people who came with their parents as illegal alien minors and subsequently either did not continue in school, did commit a crime, or did not get a job.
Sending thousands of these non-qualifiers back home would translate in nightly CNN portraits of noble youth unfairly deported for an “accidental,” “not really serious,” “not my fault” drunk-driving convictions or “petty,” “insignificant,” “who cares?” petty-theft guilty pleas.
More importantly, progressives prefer citizenship amnesties, not green-cards, given the entire point of open borders was always bloc voting. The more they cried “racism,” the more they trafficked in racialism, by preferring immigration that was not to be diverse and would give little consideration to skill sets or education, or to those who followed the law.
The Vast Majority of Illegal Aliens Are Not Dreamers
Liberals never understood fully their own logic that, if within a pool of 10-15 million illegal aliens, some are judged deserving of amnesty, then that fact is an argument that others are more likely not to be deserving of amnesty.
The irony of Trump’s DACA mess is that he likely could have achieved, without the Schumer-Pelosi Democrats, a “comprehensive immigration reform” grand bargain.
The deal would have united congressional Republicans, Trump’s base, and (secretly) a majority of blacks and even Latinos. Minorities and the poor suffer first hand, and most grievously, the effects of a porous border, an overtaxed social services industry, schools unable to cope with influxes of non-English speakers, gangs, and low wages driven down by cheap imported labor.
The outline of such a real and necessary Republican reform would look like this:
Of the 10-15 million illegal aliens, Trump would enact a strict screening filter: Criminal convictions: deportation; no record of gainful employment: deportation; no proof of sustained residence: deportation.
He could empathetically add that the non-criminal deportees, like any other in this 6-billion-person world, were welcome to apply for legal U.S. residence after they were deported and after they went to the back of the legal line in their home countries for possible lawful entrance into the United States.
And what about the current estimated 70 percent of illegal aliens who are working, not on public assistance, free of criminal convictions, and have a verifiable long-term residence?
As with the DACA cohort, Trump could offer not amnesty, but the opportunity to receive legal residence via a green card, subject to the conditions of paying a fine and learning English.
Whether green-card holders pursued the long process and expense of citizenship would be up to each individual applicant and judged on a case-by-case basis. Past custom suggests that only about one-third of green-card holders would later seek citizenship.
The Price of a Green Card
In exchange for a green card, Trump should insist on E-Verify for all employers; an end to sanctuary cities; the completion of a border fence/wall/barrier; strict enforcement of all current federal immigration statutes; and meritocratic, reduced, and diverse legal immigration.
If he wished to maximize his leverage for conceding green cards to millions of qualifying illegal aliens other than the DACA group, he could additionally try to tax foreign remittances sent by anyone who had no proof of legal residence (in partial fulfillment of his still ambiguous promise to “make Mexico pay for the wall”), and stop chain and anchor baby immigration.
The result would be that the Left would grow furious that its grand project of demographically changing the American southwestern red states to blue largely had been foreclosed.
The formidable process of melting pot intermarriage, assimilation, and integration would within 20 years—absent the annual, non-diverse infusion of 1 million foreign nationals without legality, a high school diploma, and English—nullify the Democratic Party’s dream of equating “Latino” with liberal bloc-voting, on the quid pro quo premise of affirmative action, generous entitlements, and ethnic-based spoils.
In other words, the name Lopez or Martinez would be about as helpful a prognosticator of voting habits as Giuliani or Cuomo is today. The idea of a Chicano/La Raza/Latino Studies Department in 20 years would be about as necessary or unnecessary as a contemporary Italian-Studies or Irish Studies Department.
The Art of an Immigration Deal
Trump would win Republican “moderates” who trumpeted the green-card option to qualified illegal aliens. His base would grumble but would accept the reality that sending home all 10-15 million illegal aliens en masse, perhaps 70 percent of whom were employed and without a criminal record, was never likely. But green cards for productive, law-abiding and long-residing aliens would be well worth it, in exchange for an end to illegal and chain immigration, a wall, sanctuary cities, and a sane, legal immigration and border enforcement policy.
Minority leaders privately would appreciate the fact that entry-level jobs would see wages rise, schools improve, and social services unburdened—even as they still cried publicly that Trump was a nativist and a xenophobe.
The Democratic Party would get their DACA provision, but, given their political agendas, it would be a Pyrrhic victory: without open borders, many of the assimilating DACA grantees either would not become citizen voters or, if they chose to use green cards to apply for citizenship, would likely not all remain bloc liberal voters—given the often off-putting social trends of the progressive party.
Trump’s schizoid talk and behavior about working with Democrats on DACA may be feigned noise and bombast as part of “Art of the Deal” positioning.
Or his deer-in-the-headlights confusion may reflect a Manhattanite’s desire to be liked by elites who detest him.
Or he simply may be suicidally blind to what could have been a landmark reform deal that would have been good for the Trump project—but even better for the country.
We will find out which soon.
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