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Democrats are letting Republicans fundamentally reframe the immigration debate

When Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin first emerged from that now-infamous White House immigration meeting last week, his ...

Posted: Jan 16, 2018 11:55 AM
Updated: Jan 16, 2018 11:55 AM

When Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin first emerged from that now-infamous White House immigration meeting last week, his bipartisan bill cut down on sight by President Donald Trump, he conceded the obvious: Democrats were, at last, on the ropes.

Crafted by the Senate's "Gang of Six," the agreement had been touted as a kind of common-sense compromise. "We have been working for four months," its authors wrote in a statement, "and have reached an agreement in principle that addresses border security, the diversity visa lottery, chain migration/family reunification, and the Dream Act -- the areas outlined by the President."

"I don't know what happens next," Durbin said of the negotiations and, more broadly it seemed, the future of this mushrooming immigration debate. Democrats had gone to the middle, as the story went, and were met there with a middle finger.

But as the party's immigration priorities go, the reality is actually far worse.

Democrats are shut out of power on Capitol Hill and even with Trump's approval ratings anchored in the mid-to-high 30s, Republicans planning to flee Congress at an extraordinary rate and the prospect of a shutdown just days away, their leverage is mostly notional -- public opinion, which supports DACA overwhelmingly, is unlikely to faze the likes of Trump or immigration hardliners like adviser Stephen Miller or Sen. Tom Cotton.

They can work with what Republicans are offering on immigration and hope it allows hundreds of thousands of Dreamers to stay in the country, or shut down the government and hope Trump cracks. Both carry significant long- and short-term risks.

For those reasons, the agreement presented to Trump was no milquetoast, meet-you-half-way bargain. In fact, it would have begun to unwind the reforms of the Civil Rights era, which reset the parameters of legal immigration law as a way, at least in part, of redressing decades of racially biased guidelines and quotas.

There's no doubt this is a lousy spot for liberal lawmakers like Durbin, who are trying to save the estimated 700,000 Dreamers from deportation as Trump's deadline, which he said was meant to spur congressional action, nears. And yet, in presenting the "Gang of Six" deal as some kind of half-measure -- and not the generational overhaul it would truly represent -- Democrats are risking something more precious than any policy particular: allowing the very terms of the debate to shift right without acknowledging the magnitude of their concession.

Drawing it up on the back of an envelope, the solution to this impasse -- a compromise on recognizable terms -- once seemed simple enough. Democrats would get what they'd been after with the passage of the Dream Act (or something like it) and, in return, provide the votes for some kind of new border security funding, with a portion of that money going to prop up "the wall."

The deal would have undoubtedly disappointed immigration activists on the left. Many regard public dollar directed to a physical barrier, in any form, as a moral obscenity. Making matters worse, Trump would surely go out and tout the deal as evidence of his bargaining super-skills and call it a campaign promise delivered. Still, given the Republican grip on Washington, securing a deal to rescue Dreamers from their current limbo, or worse, would have been an estimable achievement -- and likely redound to the party's advantage over time.

Alas, this is not what's happening.

Not even close. Instead, Durbin and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, among others, agreed to address all of Trump's four pillars - the ones he spoke about during that occasionally strange and confusing open negotiating session at the White House two days earlier.

At a press conference earlier in the day, before the White House meeting, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi expressed her own frustration at the shifting terms of the debate. Both sides, she insisted, had signaled a willingness to cut a deal that effectively exchanged DACA for new wall funding.

"Then this week it emerged that (Trump) wanted to change immigration policy with other, addressing family unification initiatives which they call by another name which I won't use and ending the diversity visa," she said, her frustration evident, before moving on to the administration's TPS threat: "So now we have to deal, and that's why some of this week people were finding out for the first time, that there were communities that were affected by this very directly and we have to address those concerns."

Indeed, both the White House and, in their draft pact, the Durbin-Graham group, were now pushing, in varying degrees, changes that would decimate the diversity lottery and limit or end family-based or "chain" migration -- two programs that have rarely figured in the modern legislative debate over illegal immigration, because they are questions about legal immigration.

Previous bipartisan efforts have addressed what opponents call "chain migration," but with the offsetting compromise of a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented. No such comprehensive deal seems likely at the moment, despite Trump's eyebrow-raising suggestion to the contrary.

In exchange here, Democrats would preserve temporary protected status for migrants from countries like El Salvador and Haiti, who, like the Dreamers, Trump has faced with imminent deportation. It was at this juncture in their talk, as Durbin ran through the nationalities who would qualify, that Trump asked why people from "shithole countries" (or "shithouse countries" -- it doesn't matter) should be included and not, for example, Norwegians.

Later on, per a source familiar with the meeting, Trump returned to the point and, as if to quell any lingering doubt over his thought process, asked: "Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out."

Those lines should tell us all we should need to know about why Trump rejected the deal outright, while confirming, if it wasn't already painfully obvious, his views on race and what an "American" should look like.

But equally instructive here is the response by Republicans, who, even after seeing the potential for buy-in among moderates like Durbin, aren't rushing to rally congressional support for this would-be deal. Why would they? They quite clearly sense their advantage. What had for so long been viewed as a hard right, political implausibility, is now being characterized by Democrats as a compromise position.

That some Democrats are going along with this narrative, perhaps in their desire to protect DACA recipients on the brink or, less honorably, an effort to save face and deny Trump a victory lap, is remarkably short-sighted -- and sets the stage for more damaging defeats in the future.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 294994

Reported Deaths: 6681
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19672230
Hinds18799386
Harrison16710278
Rankin12685264
Jackson12592226
Lee9687160
Madison9457199
Jones7962146
Forrest7208136
Lauderdale6833226
Lowndes6022137
Lamar588080
Lafayette5733113
Washington5218130
Bolivar4609123
Oktibbeha441393
Panola430394
Pearl River4167130
Warren4129114
Pontotoc408869
Marshall403192
Monroe3989126
Union395374
Neshoba3807168
Lincoln3541102
Hancock347374
Leflore3375118
Sunflower318386
Tate302474
Pike300195
Scott293870
Alcorn291861
Itawamba289975
Yazoo289262
Tippah278765
Copiah277857
Coahoma277568
Simpson274878
Prentiss269758
Wayne253841
Marion252678
Leake252471
Covington248879
Grenada247377
Adams234377
George231745
Newton229652
Winston221675
Jasper213445
Tishomingo212365
Attala206569
Chickasaw201151
Holmes182270
Clay179150
Stone172429
Tallahatchie170539
Clarke169371
Calhoun157828
Smith152731
Yalobusha144836
Greene127633
Walthall124140
Noxubee122829
Montgomery122438
Perry121634
Lawrence120321
Carroll118225
Amite111533
Webster110630
Jefferson Davis101731
Tunica99023
Claiborne98429
Benton93324
Humphreys92827
Kemper90223
Quitman77114
Franklin76119
Choctaw69516
Jefferson62527
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 493769

Reported Deaths: 9931
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson710731374
Mobile36139727
Madison32425455
Tuscaloosa24184410
Montgomery22586500
Shelby21968215
Baldwin19758283
Lee14967153
Morgan13667251
Calhoun13300286
Etowah13184319
Marshall11262209
Houston10104261
Elmore9385185
Limestone9363134
Cullman8897181
St. Clair8827223
Lauderdale8607211
DeKalb8459175
Talladega7523163
Walker6524255
Jackson6495102
Autauga627091
Blount6102127
Colbert6004118
Coffee5249102
Dale4642107
Russell404930
Franklin399177
Covington3960106
Chilton3876100
Escambia377672
Tallapoosa3588142
Clarke343650
Chambers3413110
Dallas3403141
Pike293472
Lawrence283484
Marion281995
Winston246867
Bibb245060
Geneva239970
Marengo236455
Pickens224654
Barbour211651
Hale210568
Fayette200756
Butler196866
Henry182441
Cherokee177038
Monroe166139
Randolph163740
Washington156535
Crenshaw144854
Clay144454
Macon142043
Cleburne137839
Lamar132833
Lowndes131151
Wilcox121825
Bullock116936
Conecuh106724
Perry105627
Sumter98531
Coosa88923
Greene88232
Choctaw55123
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