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Democrats could compromise to win relief for undocumented immigrants

photo of fence at border with wall prototypes in background
REUTERS/Jorge Duenes
I personally don’t support building a wall, but at this time, I think both parties need to compromise to end the shutdown and find a path forward that Americans will support.

Public opinion appears to show it may be prudent for Democrats to agree to the $5 billion for President Donald Trump’s wall, in exchange for urgent relief needed for several million undocumented immigrants. Comprehensive immigration reform is preferred, but in the current stalemate incremental steps in that direction could save face for both sides. For the Democrats to hold the line for sake of principle or what they perceive as political advantage will not help immigrants. Political compromise now could move the agenda forward on immigration.

Wayne Nealis

In the last few days, the GOP and Trump indicated they are willing to resolve the legal limbo of Dreamers, the nearly 1 million children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.  Sen. Lindsey Graham raised the prospect of resolving the status of the estimated 400,000 immigrants with temporary protection status (TPS). This includes an estimated 100,000 Haitians and Hondurans who came here after natural disasters in their countries. Some have been here for nearly 20 years. Many have children. Trump has threatened to deport them, but he also knows Americans do not support deporting families.

In addition to these remedies, the Democrats could agree to end the visa lottery program that awards 50,000 applicants a visa each year. As well intentioned as it is, this program does not have wide public support. As well, the program negatively affects developing nations, as an estimated 50 percent who emigrate are technical professionals. In exchange, the Democrats should propose using these visa slots to gain the legal status of another 50,000 parents of Dreamers each year to keep these families intact. This compromise should be easy, as Democrats already agreed to end the visa lottery in the 2013 bill for comprehensive reform and border security that came close to passing.

Factors in Democrats’ favor

Two factors lean in Democrats’ favor to reach a win-win compromise. A Gallup poll in June showed 83 percent of Americans favor allowing Dreamers permanent legal status and a route to citizenship. If the Democrats held firm, Trump and the GOP are not likely to oppose a solution that this poll shows a significant portion of their own voters favor. Tactically, putting this offer on the table would also test whether Trump and the GOP leadership are serious about making a deal.


Secondly, Trump needs a win. He is aware he has shaky support for continuing the shutdown. According to a Marist Poll concluded Dec. 4, 2018, 63 percent of independents and 29 percent of Republicans urged Trump to compromise to avoid gridlock. It’s not likely that has changed for the better. On the other hand, nearly 50 percent of those polled support building some type of border wall. These figures indicate that a compromise by both parties is a sensible approach.

It may be possible for Democrats to raise the ante to win even more concessions, but at a minimum they must demand a win for Dreamers, their parents and the TPS immigrants. Such a compromise could engender the political trust necessary to negotiate a legal path for all current undocumented immigrants.

It will take years to spend the $5 billion. We spend this amount every couple of weeks waging senseless wars that both political parties supported and funded. Immigration is as much about foreign policy as it is about borders. Many Americans are unaware that for decades, both Democratic and GOP administrations made foreign policy choices that contributed to destabilizing the Central American nations from which many immigrants are fleeing.

A different approach would help

Instead of interfering in their domestic politics and providing military aid, we could change our policies and generate American jobs that contribute to their development needs. These steps would bring hope to those suffering the indignities of poverty and injustice that prompt them to seek opportunities across the U.S. border.

I personally don’t support building a wall, but at this time, I think both parties need to compromise to end the shutdown and find a path forward that Americans will support. Do we have leaders who will guide us? Clearly, with a congressional approval rating hovering in the low 20s, Americans have little confidence in those governing. GOP leaders appear unable to bring their extreme right wing on board, so it will take Democrats to find a compromise with less strident Republicans to win incremental battles to aid immigrants and take steps toward comprehensive reform.

Wayne Nealis is a writer and long-time single payer activist and former union activist living in Minneapolis.

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 01/09/2019 - 08:29 am.

    My First question is where is the check from Mexico? For all the media insisting that Donald is just doing what he promised during the election they always seem to leave this part out, Mexico was going to pay for it. I wonder why that is. Did our pals in the media decide that part was just talk but the wall part wasn’t?

    Next the polls on this issue are skewed due to the constant pounding the issue gets in the media, just before the election we were bombarded with fear mongering ads and news stories about the unwashed hordes coming to invade our country, so I don’t think that given the real facts people would support this wall. As it is we’ve been fed a pack of lies by this administration, the latest being that 4000 terrorists had been stopped at the boarder when in reality it was 6 and those 6 were stopped because their names appeared on the terrorist watch list. A list that is notorious for its errors.

    Lastly they did have a deal just a few weeks ago, Donald supported it, he was going to get 1.7 Billion boarder security money, the house and the Senate agreed, but then right wing talking heads like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh stepped in and Donald reneged on the deal. Donald has proven that he can’t be trusted.

    Given the last fact Democrats really can’t trust anything that anyone but Donald and his talk radio advisors agree to and I can’t imagine that any Democrat could support whatever horror that would be.

    Donald had painted himself into a corner, its not anyone else’s responsibility to get him out.

    One final thought that I don’t think people seem to grasp, he wants a wall along the ENTIRETY of the southern boarder, that 2000 miles. Think about the logistics of that and the actual cost, its mind boggling to me that someone would actually think that’s a good idea.

  2. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/09/2019 - 10:05 am.

    I don’t think conservatives want a deal on the wall or immigration. I really think they prefer to have an election issue they can demagogue.

    A year ago Schumer offerd Don Trump $25 BILLION for the wall in return for permanent protection for the Dreamers, and Don Trump initially accepted the deal. Later the Administration backed out of the deal (sound familiar?).

    And this has happened going back quite a while. Moderate GOPers get on board, then the hard line conservatives balk, and the deal falls apart.

    Rather than get a deal done, conservatives have chosen no deal is better.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 01/09/2019 - 11:13 am.

      Ya gotta love them for that. Their inability to take yes for an answer save us on “entitlement” reform too.

    • Submitted by Alan Straka on 01/09/2019 - 02:08 pm.

      The Dems should put the offer back on the table. I bet Trump would jump at the opportunity to get himself out of his self-made predicament. The fact that they haven’t shows they are hypocritically angling for political gain. We know Trump does not care about the people affected by the shutdown, he has said as much, but I expected more from the Democrats. They should keep in mind that a rat backed into a corner can be a fearsome opponent. They will surely win the fight but at what cost?

    • Submitted by kevin terrell on 01/11/2019 - 11:09 pm.

      Curious – could you provide a reference for when Trump rejected the offer for $25B?

      What I do see back in January 2018 is a lot of articles talking about Schumer pulling the deal. E.g. from the Washington Post on Jan 23rd:

      HEADLINE:

      Schumer has rescinded offer to Trump on border wall funding

      “Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he had withdrawn an offer to Trump of $25 billion for new border security measures in exchange for permanent legal protections for some undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.“

      My thought in this – $25B for DACA – Trump would have done the deal but partisan morons on both sides blocked it. Now for a mere $5B he’s just going to reopen the govt, or use the situation to illustrate he has tried the longest shutdown in history to deliver on a promise.

      Chuck ain’t getting a better deal. He ain’t getting DACA for $5B. He blew it last time. But this secretly makes the aforementioned bi-partisan morons quite happy. I honestly think Trump is the only one who wants a deal.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/09/2019 - 12:02 pm.

    Unfortunately for the writer of this piece, Donald Trump does not value any “deal” that is win-win. It has to be “I, Donald, win; you lose.” His father taught him that, and even though he’s now in his 70s, The Donald can’t get past that concept.

    Somehow, this writer puts the onus of government functionality entirely on the new House Democratic majority! Democrats have to compromise not Trump. But Trump is untrustworthy to a fault–he says one thing, then goes back on it, then goes back on that. Sometimes, in the space of a single sentence.

    You trust him? Neither do I. Nor do the Democrats.

    We have to pressure Senator Mitch McConnell to permit the Senate to vote on the open-the-govenment-again bills the House sends to it. There are sensible Republicans there who can see that there is no need to do what Trump is doing (or not doing) to address both government functions and immigration reform.

    Trump doesn’t want immigration reform, incidentally. He seems only to want “win” for himself, so he can jazz up his base, who really don’t think the southern wall is needed.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/09/2019 - 01:15 pm.

    If they cave now, every bill will require a $5.6 B bribe attached to it. Trump cannot be trusted. Its either the right thing to do or its not.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/09/2019 - 02:57 pm.

    And what happens next time Trump wants something that the other co-equal branches of government don’t want ?

    Time to have the “executive emergency” issue over with for good.

  6. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 01/09/2019 - 03:46 pm.

    “he wants a wall along the ENTIRETY of the southern boarder”

    That’s a fact-check fail. Trump has stated several times that we need barriers near populated areas and areas that offer no natural barrier.

    I think the total comes to about 1000 miles.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/10/2019 - 10:04 am.

      “Trump” probably has claimed more versions, designs, options of “The wall” than we can comprehend. There is no sense in trying to claim, understand or figure out what he actually wants, Google has ~ 735 M responses to the search, Wikipedia, portrays a different version near every time “T” opens his mouth.

  7. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/09/2019 - 05:13 pm.

    “In the last few days, the GOP and Trump indicated they are willing to resolve the legal limbo of Dreamers, the nearly 1 million children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.”

    Mr. Nealis, do you really believe that? Trump has done nothing but lie about immigration since he started his campaign for the presidency. Why would anyone think that his vague promises to reach a deal would mean anything?

  8. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 01/10/2019 - 04:12 am.

    Trump needs a win? No basis for a national security decision. If Trump suggests a compromise that includes some of the things and actually commits to it, rather than promising and changing his mind, maybe, but is is using more than a million federal workers and dreamers as hostages. I see to reason to negotiate with the blackmailer. Rescue his histages and hold him accountable for what he did.

  9. Submitted by Wayne Nealis on 01/10/2019 - 11:52 am.

    Thanks to all for reading my piece and sharing your comments. If it is not clear, I do not support Trump. However, unless the Democrats put some demands on the table like those I mention, we will not learn if Trump and GOP are serious when they float ideas such a resolving the Dreamers legal limbo in exchange for funding. As much as I too would find it distasteful to negotiate with Trump. $5 billion is not much. I also would challenge the Democrats to put the bill for comprehensive immigration reform on the table that they supported in 2013. It’s not the best, but Schumer, if I recall correctly, was one of those who introduced it. Still, it comes down to having the votes to pass it. There is also no acknowledgement as the DEMS role (along with GOP) in supporting policies that have destabilized Central American nations. Too much to expect, I suppose, but this gets to the heart of the matter, Trump or no Trump.

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