Polman: Should Democrats do a deal for the Dreamers? (column)
September 10, 2017
Let's stick with the story about the Dreamers — the 800,000 young immigrants Trump wants to kick out of the country — because we need to talk about the Democrats. You may remember the Democrats. They're the people who need a crowbar to break into the news cycle.
But if they can refrain from embarrassing themselves by re-fighting 2016, they could play a pivotal role in saving the Dreamers from deportation. In theory, anyway. It depends on what price they'd be willing to pay.
As you know, Trump said the Dreamers must go. But after nixing President Obama's 2012 executive action, he punted the issue to Congress for the next six months. The big question now is whether these alleged lawmakers — many of whom couldn't find the bathroom if you gave them a compass — have the wherewithal to do a decent deal. Scores of House Republicans won't lift a finger to help the Dreamers because they're cleaved to the white-grievance voters in their gerrymandered districts, so any hopes for legislation would likely hinge on the Democrats (who are overwhelmingly pro-Dreamer) joining forces with a small but sufficient number of willing Republicans.
The hitch, however, is that those willing Republicans are likely to insist that the Democrats give up something in return. That way, Republicans would get some cover with the anti-immigrant base. (It doesn't matter that 76 percent of Americans want the Dreamers to stay; the GOP is hostage to its base.) And Trump, depending on what tweets you read on a given day, could similarly insist that the Democrats agree to a tradeoff. A proposed deal may well look like this:
The Dreamers, brought to America as children, will be allowed to stay in the only country they've ever known — if Democrats agree to vote for a bill that also earmarks a few billion bucks for Trump's border wall. (Wait, wasn't Mexico supposed to pay for the wall, not the American taxpayer? Never mind.)
Or maybe the deal looks something like this:
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The Dreamers will be allowed to stay in America — if Democrats agree to vote for a bill that would also cut legal immigration in half.
So what do we think about this? Horse-trading is supposed to be part of the legislative process; compromise is coveted more than ever, because it seems to happen so infrequently. If Democrats are offered a deal that protects the Dreamers but green-lights one of the GOP's crackpot schemes, should they take it?
Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi would obviously prefer a pro-Dreamer measure that stands alone, without any conditions. But given their minimal clout in this Congress, it's virtually inevitable that Republicans will hold the Dreamers hostage in exchange for some kind of anti-immigrant trade. So what trade would be too odious for Democrats to accept? How likely is it that any such trade with the GOP would divide the Democrats and stir fury on the party's left flank?
But some liberals say that Democrats should take a border wall deal, because life ain't perfect and the tradeoff would tilt in their favor.
A commentator on the Mother Jones website says: "A couple billion dollars for a border wall is galling, but it really isn't all that damaging. Conversely, a truly permanent (Dreamer law) would be a boon for nearly a million young immigrants. Nobody likes being forced to trade votes like this, but this is the way politics works." And a commentator on the Salon website says that Democrats "should probably vote for (a deal that earmarks money for a wall), as long as such a trade provides a guarantee that the Dreamers will get a path to citizenship … Either way, putting 800,000 Dreamer kids' minds at rest will be worth it."
Actually, it's just as likely that Democrats won't agree among themselves on what Faustian pact passes muster; that Republicans, fearful of their right flank, will hesitate to save the Dreamers at any price; that, all told, Congress (which has tried and failed on all kinds of immigration reform since 2006) will be so stymied by its cross-pressures that it will ultimately take the path of least resistance and do nothing.
Saving the Dreamers — who contribute billions to the economy — via the legislative route would be ideal. But if the congressional quest collapses, the buck would stop with Trump. In a way, that seems fitting. He's the guy who dissed the Dreamers on the stump in 2016. He said, "I want my dreamers to be young Americans!"
Failing a congressional solution, let him own his xenophobia.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (NewsWorks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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