No Brainer: An Immigration/Budget Deal

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If our country were governed at the top by statespersons or even just reasonable politicians, we wouldn’t repeatedly face government shutdowns and steps could be taken to fix our broken (and politically divisive) immigration system.

Instead, we have in charge a demagogic president determined to keep his base agitated, egged on by nativist ideologue advisers and like-minded Republicans.

Both parties are led by hyper-partisan cynics who put beating the other side as their top priority. And the rank-and-file on both sides are too wimpy to buck their leaders and demand sensible action.

Under heavy public pressure, Congress has temporarily averted a shutdown, but the threat will be back, likely in February. And people will continue to suffer (the country, too) from the unresolved immigration wound.

The blindingly obvious answer is a deal: Trump gets some funding for his precious wall and he gives Democrats some immigration reform and persuades his party to back it.     

There are any number of compromise deals that could have been reached this week — and should be agreed to before the next budget battle to avoid a shutdown and address immigration.

One that seems reasonable to me has been advanced by long-standing immigration reformer Rick Swartz, largely comprised of elements that have been endorsed in the past by significant numbers in Congress and even (at moments) by Trump.

Swartz proposes that Democrats agree to give Trump the $5 billion he wants for his border wall, but offer it as a three-year package.

Democrats seemed to have offered Trump even more money—possibly $20 billion—for the wall in January 2018, with another government shutdown impending, if Trump was willing to legalize young people brought to the United States illegally as children—so-called Dreamers. Nothing came of that, of course.

In return for the wall money, under Swartz’s proposal, Trump would agree to “permanent solutions” for 1.8 million Dreamers and 300,000 foreigners given Temporary Protected Status by the federal government owing to natural disasters or ongoing violence in their home countries.

But Trump wants to pack TPS refugees back to their (often dangerous) home countries and refuse entry to other refugees. And he cancelled President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protective order, though he once indicated he’d go for giving a path to citizenship to the young people covered by it.

Every compromise proposal on DACA and other immigration reforms has been stymied by opposition either from Democrats refusing to pay for Trump’s wall and accept other hard-line GOP restrictionist ideas or from Republicans deeming any pro-immigrant “give” to be “amnesty” for illegals.

 Trump has been of no help, with off-again/on-again messages of support abruptly withdrawn. He has repeatedly accused Democrats of favoring “open borders” and free access for MS-13 gang members, terrorists and drug runners. And Democrats have left unclear what they actually favor—except rejecting Trump’s wall.

In the latest romp-around, Trump first said he was happy to own a government shutdown in order to get his wall funded—a position he seems to have abandoned. Democrats were only too happy to let him and his party take the blame.

On Wednesday, Trump seemed to have backed down on wall funding for now. It’s not in the short-term funding package apparently destined for passage.

He’s certainly not given up on the wall—it’s central to the case he makes to his base that he and the structure are all that stand between them and hoards of unwelcome border-crossers.

He must know it’ll be even harder to get wall funding in February, when Democrats control the House. Though he may have decided to fund it by repurposing money appropriated for the Homeland Security and Defense departments, doing so will provoke another big fight.

Meantime, DACA recipients and TPS refugees are in limbo—possibly to be deported, possibly not. On other fronts, thousands of refugee children are being penned up in detention camps and U.S. businesses can’t find skilled workers at home or hire them from abroad.

Other elements of Swartz’s proposal would involve reducing the backlog for green cards for skilled H1-B visa holders and immigrant veterans, provide due process protection for family and child detainees and conduct rigorous studies of unresolved issues like so-called chain migration and the e-verify system for validating the citizenship of prospective employees.

If I were drawing up the deal, I’d go along with Trump and gradually end family-reunification as the basis of U.S. immigration policy and substitute a Canadian-style “merit” entry system.

I’d give Trump the whole $5 billion wall money he wants—calculating that a real wall will never actually be built—in return for immigration reforms.

Swartz thinks Democrats calculate that they will be in a stronger position to thwart Trump in 2019 when they have control of the House, especially because most Americans oppose building his wall. And he may be weakened by continuing scandal, a volatile stock market, falling approval ratings and a possibly devastating report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Democrats also think they have the public on their side on most immigration issues. A Democratic House may well pass a DACA legalization bill or even comprehensive immigration reform. With no wall funding, of course.

It’s likely to be a cynical move—passed with full knowledge it can’t get past the Republican Senate and Trump’s veto—and will mainly be designed to keep Latinos voting against Republicans.

Swartz fears that anti-immigration hard-liners like White House aide Steve Miller and former aide Steve Bannon have the upper hand. In the short term, the GOP Senate and Trump can block any Democratic immigration initiatives. In the long term, he says, Miller and Bannon represent a mounting worldwide rebellion against immigration, trade, international alliances, globalism and “elites”—evidenced by recent riots in France, Brexit and the rise of nationalist authoritarian movements elsewhere in Europe.

“Our immigration fights are just a small piece of a big battle going on all over, and I don’t see that most Americans understand it,” Swartz says. “Millerism and Bannonism are winning.”  

I hope he’s wrong, but the utter failure of our national leaders to deal sensibly on immigration—or almost any major issue, for that matter—is not encouraging.  

Morton Kondracke is the retired executive editor of Roll Call and a former Fox News contributor. He is co-author, with Fred Barnes, of “Jack Kemp: The Bleeding Heart Conservative Who Changed America.”

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