President Donald Trump, having clearly spent the morning absorbed in the careful study of immigration issues, just unleashed this thoughtful and considered policy prescription.
Trump tweeted “We must have Security at our VERY DANGEROUS SOUTHERN BORDER, and we must have a great WALL to help protect us, and to help stop the massive inflow of drugs pouring into our country!”
The notion that a wall will stop the influx of drugs is a fantasy, but the real point here is that Trump is doubling down on his rejection of a deal reached by a bipartisan group of senators that would protect the “dreamers,” because it didn’t give him enough concessions, including on the wall. That rejection makes a government shutdown more likely.
But now, thanks to an important new report in The Post, we have learned much more about how and why he rejected this compromise. And it’s grounds for serious pessimism about what comes next.
The Post report confirms that despite Trump’s denial of the “shithole countries” comment, Trump did, in fact, privately conclude that the deal would result in more people coming to the United States “from countries he deemed undesirable.” This shows that Trump rejected the deal (as I argued) because it does not do enough to reverse the current racial and ethnic mix in the U.S.
But it gets worse: The Post also reports that Trump was originally favorable toward the deal, but the anti-immigration hardliners around him intervened, on the grounds that it would supposedly be “damaging” to Trump and “would hurt him with his political base.” This included (unsurprisingly) Stephen Miller and even (disturbingly) Chief of Staff John F. Kelly. After that, The Post reports, Trump began telling friends that the agreement was “a terrible deal for me.”
This is dispiriting to learn, because in reality, the deal actually makes substantial concessions to Trump. The deal would offer legal protections to the dreamers — people who were brought here illegally as children — in exchange for more money poured into border security, an end to some types of family-based immigration (dreamers will not be able to petition for their parents to get legalization, though they would get temporary protected status) and a cut of half the amount of visas the lottery system awards to people from historically lower-immigration countries.
These are both meaningful concessions. For the vast majority of lawmakers, the argument here is not over whether to protect the dreamers — Trump himself supports doing this — it’s over what Trump should be given in exchange for agreeing to it. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that as many as 500,000 parents of dreamers who might otherwise have tried to gain legalization probably would not be able to under this deal, according to the group’s senior policy analyst Julia Gelatt.
In humanitarian terms, this would be a bitter pill for the dreamers. “The tension that dreamers face is that they often feel their parents have already made a lot of sacrifices for them,” Gelatt tells me. “A bill that would further limit their parents’ opportunities may be hard for many dreamers to swallow.”
The deal would also result in 25,000 fewer visas to new immigrants by lottery per year, Gelatt says. Instead, those protections would now be awarded to people with temporary protected status — people who would have stayed anyway if Trump were not also rolling back that program. And the deal completely sidelines the question of what to do about the 11 million undocumented people already here — which of course allows their deportations to continue apace.
Trump is easily manipulated
Yet Trump was easily manipulated into believing this deal would sell out his base. This suggests Trump is both totally lost on the policy details and is captive to the idea — pushed heavily by a few loud voices on the far right — that his base is not just ardently restrictionist but also will break out into open rebellion if that sentiment is not honored to the hilt, rendering all compromise and problem-solving impossible. Indeed, The Post reports that Trump originally thought his “shithole” comment would also help with the base (how this squares with his subsequent denial of the comment is anyone’s guess).
Yet many in his base might not actually reject a deal protecting the dreamers: A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that large majorities of non-college whites, older voters, and even white men support such protections. And Trump is rejecting the compromise even though it was negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators — a genuine good faith effort that was easily poisoned in Trump’s mind by a cadre of advisers operating with seemingly bottomless bad faith.
One of the biggest lies at the core of Trumpism is the idea that great swaths of Real America are rooting for the hardest of hard-line immigration crackdowns to succeed and that only liberal elites in their bubble don’t get this. But this idea has itself created a bubble around Trump, and his most cynical advisers are very skilled at keeping it in place.