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Trump's Dreamer-for-Wall Proposal Isn't a Good Faith Deal

But Democrats shouldn't simply walk away.

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Border Wall
Jonathan McIntosh via Newscom

President Donald Trump has presented a proposal to end the government shutdown—now in its 29th day—that is typical Trump: It is less a credible proposal and more a negotiation tactic whose main goal is to turn the tables on Democrats so that they get blamed for the shutdown rather than him.

Democrats should not refuse to negotiate. But they shouldn't accept this deal either.

I had written some weeks ago that Democrats should give Trump his $5.7 billion in border wall money in exchange for legalizing 700,000 Dreamers and 300,000 TPS holders. (Dreamers are people who were brought to this country without proper authorization as children but who have grown up in this country as Americans. TPS holders, by contrast, are not illegals but folks fleeing natural disasters or turmoil who have been given permission to live in the country on a renewable basis till things stabilize in their native countries. But shortly after Trump suspended the Obama-era DACA program for Dreamers and made them vulnerable to deportation, he also scrapped the TPS status of nationals from El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua, setting up about 98 percent of current TPS recipients for deportation if they didn't voluntarily leave by the end of this year. Federal courts have stepped in and prevented the administration from scrapping both the programs for now.)

Democrats should make the offer, I had noted, not because "walls work" as Trump insists. They don't:

drug smugglers will find ways to breach it [the wall] given the enormous profits at stake. And it will do nothing to keep out visa overstays, half of the unauthorized population. It will also simply never be completed because $5 billion is less than a quarter of what would be required to cover the entire 2,000-mile-plus Southern border and what Trump—the "great negotiator"—walked away from during the last shutdown.

However, how much harm would a partial wall really do? It would be a total waste of taxpayer dollars, sure. But the amount of money involved is not even a drop in a $4 trillion budget and it strikes most Americans as utterly stupid that the two sides should have shut down the government over such a trivial amount. Trump has been holding Dreamers and TPS-holders hostage and it would be the lesser of the two evils for Democrats to give him the ransom money for a useless wall rather than risk mass deportations of folks who've built lives in the United States.

However, what Trump is actually offering is not permanent legalization for Dreamers and TPS-holders in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding—plus hundreds of millions to stop drug smugglers etc.—but only a three-year extension of stay.

This is a bad offer because it simply kicks the can down the road. If Trump wins re-election next year, we'll be back to square one and having this same conversation all over again three years from now. And if Democrats win, then Republicans will raise the same hell against "amnesty" to prevent Democrats from legalizing Dreamers as they have been doing for ever.

Trump hinted that his proposed deal is a temporary measure to allow the government to reopen while both sides work on comprehensive immigration reform that would permanently fix the country's broken immigration system. But two previous presidents have tried and failed to make that happen. And any comprehensive solution has to find a way to prevent the problem of the unauthorized from reemerging. That would involve implementing a guest worker program to allow migrants from Central America to work and live in the United States legally rather than having to sneak in illegally. But Trump didn't allude to that. In fact, in his remarks, he revved up his previous accusations that immigrants lower American wages and undercut American jobs.

Furthermore, Trump is playing a weak hand and offering much less than he should given how little leverage he has. The Supreme Court yesterday declined to put the administration's DACA appeal on the docket. This means that the lower court rulings preventing Trump from scrapping DACA will stay in place for at least another year. If the Supreme Court had accepted the appeal, I have predicted, it would rule in Trump's favor because Congress has given the president vast statutory authority to set immigration enforcement priorities. In that case, Trump could have held the specter of deporting Dreamers over the Democrats' head to drive a hard bargain. But the court has pulled the rug out from under him.

None of that means that Democrats should dismiss Trump's offer out of hand in order to deny him a symbolic victory on the wall. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declared Trump's offer dead on arrival. If that is simply an effort to drive a hard bargain to get a better deal for Dreamers and TPSers, then fine. Democrats have already stopped talking about legalizing all the 11 million or so unauthorized folks—many of them parents of Dreamers. They shouldn't give in any more.

But if that is a prelude to walking away, it will be a mistake.