The legal status of so-called "dreamers," young illegal immigrants raised in the U.S., must be faced in a near vacuum. And Congressional Democrats would be foolish if they refuse to give a little to get a deal done.
Business and agriculture organizations in Iowa and Illinois have, for years, pined for sweeping changes to the American immigration system. Undocumented migrants comprise a massive percentage of the work force in dairy heavy states, such as Wisconsin, New York, Idaho and California. And they're well represented in the pork industry in Iowa and Illinois, too, industry officials told us.
But, after the hard right's years-long campaign to demonize what they call amnesty, President Donald Trump's dream of accomplishing what his predecessors could not is little more than fantasy, a punji pit where the lives of recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) get impaled.
As with efforts to overturn Obamacare, Trump's total disengagement from the policy issues -- and his desire to sign basically anything -- means Congress would have to pull off a miracle without leadership from the top. This past week, Trump, a man who campaigned on sweeping round ups and a massive border wall, contradicted himself. Speaking at a national meeting of farm bureaus in Nashville this past week, Trump reverted to his campaign talking points. Only days later, in a truly bizarre, reality television-style negotiation with members of Congress, Trump then said he'd sign legislation that included a pathway to citizenship and, in a moment of obvious confusion, even supported a "clean" DACA fix pitched by Senate Democrat Dianne Feinstein.
Trump's inconsistency and abject lack of understanding has sowed widespread confusion among among all interested parties.
"(Trump) told us it was all about the wall. 'We're going to get that wall,'" said Adam Nielsen, chief lobbyist for Illinois Farm Bureau, who attended the Nashville conference. "OK. Well, that's not what you just told those other people."
Illinois ranks third among the states for DACA recipients, with about 42,000 enrolled in the program, according to federal reports. Less than 3,000 young migrants in Iowa are enrolled in the program. Regardless of scale, however, DACA is a moral imperative. These are people who, for all practical purposes, know only an American way of life. They enrolled in college. They enlisted in the military. They work and pay taxes. They trusted a promise, made by the U.S. government that, by enrolling, they were not simply providing information that would be used, ultimately, to expel them.
Already, commingling DACA with sweeping immigration reform has had a negative effect. Late last week, the hardline House Freedom Caucus dug in its heels and proposed draconian legislation that would be a non-starter in the Senate. Trump further complicated things on Thursday when he reportedly went ballistic in a meeting with senators and, yet again, moved the goal posts.
Dreamers have until March, when Trump's decision late last year to rescind DACA takes effect. In practical terms, Democrats hold enough sway in the Senate to force the issue to a head in the coming days. A budget stalemate and a potential government shutdown are at stake.
But Congressional Democrats would be foolish to play hardball here. Trump doesn't actually need his border wall, a solution no serious analyst or politician supports. He simply wants the ability to tell his base that he built a border wall, even if it's more metaphorical than physical and funded by the American taxpayer instead of Mexico.
Trump's earlier pledge to rubber stamp almost anything and the looming DACA deadline presents an opportunity for legitimate bipartisan compromise on Capitol Hill. Legislation drafted this past week by a bipartisan group of senators would provide a DACA fix while also giving conservatives the cash for security they want. Senate Democrats would be wise to take seriously bills such this as the alternatives in the House are intended solely to scuttle the entire endeavor. Lawmakers in the House could, for once, dodge the freedom caucus all together and meet in the middle for a DACA fix, too.
Anything more, in this moment, is dead on arrival and only detracts from the real issue at hand.