President Donald Trump’s proposed deal to end the shutdown by trading border wall funding for protections of over a million people living in the United States under a special protected status has already set off panic among key Trump supporters who accuse him of abandoning his base, even as Democrats say no deal.
“This would be a terrible deal, a major embarrassment for the president, and Chuck and Nancy will be high-fiving right through 2020 and beyond,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, who speaks regularly with the administration.
Speaking from the Oval Office, Trump sought to end the nearly five-week partial government shutdown and reopen the government. His idea includes a three-year extension of protections for 700,000 young immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents and hundreds of thousands of people with Temporary Protected Status in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding and other enforcement and humanitarian assistance.
The proposal also includes $805 million to to help stop the flow of illegal drugs and weapons, $782 million to hire an additional 2,750 border agents and law enforcement officers, $800 million dollars in humanitarian assistance , and new temporary housing and $563 million for hiring 75 new immigration judge teams to help address court backlog.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly praised the deal and said he was ready to bring the measure to the floor, but it’s already clear that Democrats are uninterested.
Even before Trump started speaking, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leaders were calling the proposal “a non-starter” that was full of “previously rejected initiatives.”
“It is unlikely that any one of these provisions alone would pass the House, and taken together, they are a non-starter,” Pelosi said. “For one thing, this proposal does not include the permanent solution for the Dreamers and TPS recipients that our country needs and supports.“
That hasn’t eased concerns among enforcement advocates who feel their priorities - a key to Trump’s path to the White House —are now being left behind.
Those familiar with the discussions say Trump was desperate for a way to get out of the shutdown. Polls show most Americans blame Trump and Republicans for hundreds of thousands of federal workers who have been furloughed or forced to work without pay.
The new proposal, they say, is being pushed by his top adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Vice President Mike Pence while the architect of some of the White House stiffest immigration measures, Steven Miller, has been cut out of the discussions.
RJ Hauman, the government relations director at FAIR, which advocates for stronger immigration enforcement, warned Trump’s zest to claim victory on a signature campaign promise could lead to greater problems down the road.
For one, the legalization could be granted immediately and the wall funding gets tied up in courts and Congress fights to get it back. Another concern is Trump repeats the mistake of one of his heroes, then-President Ronald Reagan who passed an amnesty proposal, but didn’t follow through on enforcement.
“This is a repeat of 1986 where the amnesty happens immediately and the enforcement measures are never put in place,” Hauman said.
Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, which seeks a reduction in immigration, said Trump has forgotten the American workers who were central to his campaign promises.
“An amnesty-for-wall trade would once again reward previous immigration lawbreakers without preventing future immigration lawbreakers. “This kind of amnesty deal will incentivize more caravans, more illegal border crossers and more visa overstayers at the expense of the most vulnerable American workers who have to compete with the illegal labor force,” Beck said.
Leon Fresco, who defended some of the Obama administration’s most controversial enforcement policies as deputy assistant attorney general for the office of immigration litigation, said it’s important to wait and see the written legislation.
But if the proposal is real, he said Democrats must take it seriously. He said $5 billion would likely be used to improve existing wall because otherwise much of it would likely get tied up in legal costs over land right battles.
“The devil is in the details here, but one thing I can guarantee is that if $5 billion is appropriated for border wall, a satellite map of the border on January 1, 2019 will look virtually identical to a satellite map of the border on November 2020,” Fresco said. “Democrats should not squander the chance to try to get reasonably permanent protections for vulnerable populations if those protections are obtainable.”
But Democrats have shown little interest in budging from their position. They say they won’t negotiate until the government is reopened. They say they can’t trust Trump, who they feel has broken multiple agreements they’ve made in the past that would have funded the wall in exchange for protections.
“People are rightly, extraordinarily skeptical of what he says or floats because every time he does, its changed,” said one political strategist who is working with Democrats and Republicans on a compromise solution. “And what is included is far more dramatic and draconian changes to the immigration system that are non starters.”