There are really only two interpretations of the list of immigration demands President Donald Trump released over the weekend: Either they’re intended to kill any kind of “dreamer” amnesty, or they’re an opening negotiation bid.
Trump’s conditions for supporting a deal to grant legal status to beneficiaries of the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are long and detailed. The list includes building a border wall, ramping up enforcement, cracking down on “sanctuary cities,” and cutting back on legal immigration.
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The president must have known Democrats never would accept such a wide-ranging set of conditions. Most experts believe Trump might reasonably be able to get more border security measures — but not a wall — and, perhaps, an item like making the E-Verify background check system mandatory for all businesses.
Going far beyond that could be a way of signaling to his hard-core supporters that he will not allow an amnesty bill for DACA recipients. Or it could be Trump’s Negotiating Strategy 101.
“My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward,” he wrote in “Trump: The Art of the Deal,” his 1987 best-seller. “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want.”
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said Trump’s immigration demands will expose Democratic duplicity if they do not make a counteroffer.
“The Democrats are treating it as a poison pill, but that’s because they refuse to negotiate on DACA at all,” he said. “I don’t think Democrats have the freedom to maneuver on that.”
Trump announced last month that he would phase out DACA by March 5. That would leave some 690,000 illegal immigrants, who have been in the United States since they were children, without protection from deportation or permits authorizing them to work. Some lawmakers hope to persuade Trump to endorse the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
Krikorian predicted left-wing activists will insist Democratic lawmakers reject any meaningful concessions and demand a “clean” DREAM Act.
“It’s the dreamer activists themselves that are the poison pill,” he said.
As if on cue, Asian Americans Advancing Justice on Monday urged no compromise on the DREAM Act.
“Once again, the administration is advancing its white supremacist agenda with the release of immigration demands that seek to use DACA recipients as a bargaining chip in order to fulfill its extreme anti-immigrant agenda,” the organization said in a statement.
“I think he is entirely open to negotiating a deal that doesn’t include everything on the list.”
Krikorian said he believes Trump would trade away items on the list if Democrats were willing to engage.
“I think he is entirely open to negotiating a deal that doesn’t include everything on the list,” he said.
David Cross, a spokesman for Oregonians for Immigration Reform, agreed.
“I think he is trying to negotiate. I really do,” said Cross, whose organization supports stricter enforcement of immigration laws. “I think he’s trying to reach out to Democrats.”
R.J. Hauman, government relations manager at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said it will be telling if Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reject negotiations out of hand.
“That ball is squarely in the court of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and congressional Democrats,” he said. “If they want to call every immigration reform idea Trump ran on a nonstarter … that’s on them.”
Hauman said Trump is right to hold out for more than additional drones to patrol the border and unspecified security provisions.
“We already tried a virtual wall … It failed,” he said.
Those who know the president well contend he is committed to fulfilling his immigration campaign promises, but not so rigid that he would insist on getting everything he wants in a single deal.
“I don’t know where he will be at the end of the day, but it’s a great conversation to start showing the American people where he is, which is with them,” said a former Trump campaign adviser, who asked for anonymity.
The adviser said that although polls show great sympathy for DACA beneficiaries, voters also support Trump’s broader approach to the issue.
“If the American people want a solution on DACA, they certainly want solutions on these other things,” he said.
If it seems confusing why Trump is playing hard to get and not immediately signing on to a bill that polls well, it might be instructive to examine “The Art of the Deal” once again.
“The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead,” he wrote. “The best thing you can do is deal from strength, and leverage is the biggest strength you can have. Leverage is having something the other guy wants.”
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