WASHINGTON – The White House’s immigration plan is not a “compromise.” It’s not a “generous” deal for Democrats, and it’s not full of “concessions.” It’s a sleight of hand designed to help the far right shove through sharp new limits on legal immigration, under the pretense of moderation and reasonableness.
Supposedly this immigration framework includes “concessions” to Democrats because it involves protections for “dreamers,” the young undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children.
But here’s the thing: Nearly everyone, Democrat and Republican, wants to protect dreamers.
President Trump included.
“I love these kids,” he said last February about beneficiaries of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offered protections for dreamers who have no criminal record and are in school, have a high school diploma or have served in the military. At the same news conference, he pledged to deal with the issue with “great heart.”
In another interview last year, he said dreamers “shouldn’t be very worried,” because he has a “big heart” that dictates, “We’re going to take care of everybody.”
Trump’s big-hearted love-fest for dreamers continued even after, in September, he unilaterally put an expiration date on the DACA provisions that allowed them to remain legally in the only country they know.
“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!” he tweeted.
Indeed, who does want to throw out these good, educated, accomplished people? The answer: almost no one.
Nearly every survey has found that the overwhelming majority of not just Americans overall, but Republicans specifically, support helping these immigrants. A Washington Post/ABC News poll this month found that 87 percent of Americans, and 76 percent of Republicans, think dreamers should be allowed to stay.
A September Fox News poll likewise found that 79 percent of Americans overall, and 63 percent of Trump voters, believe undocumented immigrants brought here as children should be granted citizenship. That’s right -- not just legal status but the opportunity to become Americans.
Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised, then, that Trump last week proposed a path to citizenship for these young people, despite all the gasping media coverage. This is not a radical policy. It’s mainstream and popular.
Yet somehow Trump and his fellow Republicans pretend that any offer to protect dreamers is a painful giveaway, for which Democratic leadership should grovel in gratitude.
In a call with allies last week, White House adviser Stephen Miller reportedly described the overall framework as “a compromised position” of which the dreamers provision is “the most substantial concession” from the White House to Democrats. Similar language was used in a background briefing with reporters, in which an unnamed White House official referred to the plan as “extremely generous.”
This spin seems to be working.
On the Sunday shows this past weekend, Trump surrogates and journalists alike bewilderingly characterized the Trump immigration proposal as a “compromise.” This despite the fact that the Trump framework packages protection for dreamers – something both sides demand – with stuff only the right demands, such as border wall funding, curbs to family-sponsored visas and an end to the diversity visa lottery.
Far be it from me to critique the dealmaking know-how of our Dealmaker in Chief, but this White House seems to misunderstand how compromises and concessions work. If you give me something that only I want in exchange for my giving you something we both want, I haven’t actually made any concessions. I’ve merely gotten everything I wanted.
It’s not a quid pro quo; it’s just quid.
No wonder anti-immigration hard-liner Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., agrees that Trump’s proposal is “generous.”
All of which is to say that Trump’s threats to deport dreamers unless he gets everything else don’t seem to be in terribly good faith. He’s pointing a gun to his own head, a bit like that scene in “Blazing Saddles” where Sheriff Bart pretends to hold himself hostage.
So what would a good-faith compromise look like?
One possibility would be to focus only on the stuff that both sides want (i.e., protection for dreamers) or at least don’t abhor (such as funding for border projects), and leave out the more inflammatory provisions, unless and until there are symmetric concessions from both sides. In other words: something like the plan that Sens. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., and Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., have been working on, and that Trump blew up at the infamous “shithole” meeting.
Either Trump wants to protect dreamers or he doesn’t. Talking out of both sides of his mouth won’t cut it.
Catherine Rampell is an opinion columnist at The Washington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell. © 2018 The Washington Post Writers Group