Earlier this week President Trump, in a masterful political move, invited some top congressional leaders to discuss immigration with him on live television at the White House. Trump was engaged, humorous, showing himself to be extremely reasonable as he controlled the conversation for almost an hour. And despite the breathless narrative of the Left in recent days, he also showed that he is very much in possession of his mental faculties (thank you, very much). It was a brilliant move, one likely inspired by Trump himself.
Now, with the Russia collusion fairytale in shambles, and the economy and markets picking up steam, President Trump’s political capital is growing with some initial good news from tax reform. Republicans on the Hill are warming to him because, as the saying goes, “Nothing succeeds like success.” Or, to be more blunt, everyone likes a winner, and Trump is winning.
Yet the immigration issue, especially as it applies to DACA, is one that should be navigated carefully. Trump has made it clear that there is no deal on DACA if there is no wall. But it’s not so simple as a straight up trade of DACA for the wall, and in the days following the meeting, the White House has correctly laid out the parameters for the potential DACA deal: funding for a physical wall and other border security measures, an end to chain migration, and an end to the visa lottery system. In a perfect world, voter ID and E-verify would be added as well, though those are likely to be a part of the much larger immigration reform.
In return for those items, it should be stressed that the deal for Dreamers is not immediate citizenship, but potentially green cards and a five-year process to become citizens. They would give them immediate legal status to prevent deportation. The fact of the matter is that it is in no one’s interests to deport the Dreamers, and in spite of a vocal minority, many in Trump’s base don’t believe it is the right thing to do. And yes, in this process the Dreamers would be put on a path to citizenship. While some will decry that they came illegally, it should also be acknowledged that they came as children and not of their own volition.
What is fascinating to watch in this debate is the Democrats seeming abhorrence to a physical wall. Not so long ago, Democrats actually used to be for physical barriers on the southern border. In 2006, four Democrat Senators by the names of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer voted for the funding for the Yuma Sector Wall. That wall, essentially a massive 20-foot high steel curtain, has brought about a decrease of over 90 percent in illegal crossings since it was built. The fact is, strong physical barriers work. Hungary’s heavy fencing on its 96-mile wall with Serbia has cut illegal crossings to almost nothing. Israel’s 143 miles of heavy fencing on its southern border in the Sinai has cut illegal crossings from hundreds a month to only 11 total in 2016, a 99 percent drop in illegal crossings.
President Trump is absolutely correct in stressing there must be a wall, because it really was one of the top three reasons he was elected. People did not chant, “Build the fence!” at his rallies. They chanted, “Build the wall!” It would be viewed as a deep betrayal if there was not full funding for the southern wall. By the Department of Homeland Security’s estimates in February 2017, 1,250 miles of wall—with some fencing—would cost $21.6 billion and take three and a half years to build. There are expectations that this is the minimum funding needed to build the wall. It is also expected by Trump’s base that in many places as possible there will be a physical wall.
The framework for much of this overarching deal is laid out in Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s proposed legislation. Everyone from Speaker Ryan to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), leader of the Freedom Caucus, have expressed support for Goodlatte’s bill, with many feeling that the bill could in fact pass the House. What the Senate would do is, of course, anyone’s guess.
We are in a moment where there can be a major reset on our immigration policy in this country. Because our failures on immigration have been building for decades, resulting in a snarled, warped system, the untangling and cleaning up of it will be messy.
But in politics there is the art of principled pragmatism, in which two deeply opposed parties come to the table and understand each with get something they want and also walk away from the table feeling like they didn’t get enough.
If the Democrats are serious about protecting the Dreamers, they will take this deal. They will get legal status for them and get them on a path to citizenship. In return, Trump will get his wall and Republicans would get an end to chain migration and the absurd visa lottery. While this potential DACA deal won’t solve all of our immigration problems, it would be a significant step in the right direction.