border wall

Trump: The Dreamers Are My Hostages – But the Wall Is Not My Ransom

The hostage-taker in chief. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that the Democratic Party would support no more than $1.6 billion in new border-security funding — but also, that he was willing to negotiate on that.

This displeased many progressives, who contend that the proper amount of new border-security funding (to provide to an administration that considers kidnapping and psychologically torturing migrant children a legitimate form of border security) to be approximately $0.

Schumer defended himself from this backlash by insisting that none of the new funds would go toward Trump’s border wall. This did address the Democratic base’s most widespread complaint (liberals do not want their party playing any part in the construction of Trump’s monument to American xenophobia). But it was also a rather odd line to draw.

After all, it wasn’t “wall funding” that allowed the Trump administration to separate migrant children from their families, or to staff migrant detention centers with caregivers who hadn’t passed FBI fingerprint checks. “Normal” border-security funding has enabled the most inhumane aspects of Trump’s immigration-enforcement regime. By contrast, funding for his wall has enabled nothing much beyond research and development into a structure that will (almost certainly) never get built.

As Republican strategist Evan Siegfried notes in a column for NBC Think, even if Trump won full funding for his wall, the fact that America’s borderlands are almost entirely privately owned means that eminent domain lawsuits are all but certain to delay groundbreaking on the structure for years — which is to say, until after Trump has passed from the White House (if not from this mortal coil).

Given this reality, Schumer’s ostensible willingness to negotiate over wall funding seems perfectly defensible. With Republicans about to forfeit control of the House, it seems at least possible that Trump would be willing to, say, legalize Dreamers for the sake of realizing his own idiotic dream.

Or, rather, that was how things had seemed — before Trump told Politico the following Tuesday evening:

SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.) said yesterday in the Capitol that Democrats’ position is they would be open to OK’ing $1.6 billion for border security. So we asked TRUMP — are you firm on $5 billion for the wall?

“I AM,” Trump told us. “I am firm. We need border security, of which a wall is part of it. But we need border security. All you have to do is look at the borders.

… WE THEN ASKED TRUMP if he would be open to a deal with Democrats to shield DREAMERS from deportation as part of an agreement to build the wall.

THE ANSWER TO THAT seemed to be a resounding no.

“WELL, I THINK DACA is gonna be much more interesting to talk about when we go to the Supreme Court,” he said.

“IF THE SUPREME COURT DOESN’T ALLOW DACA,” he said — in other words, if it gets struck down, “we will settle every single issue we have. Does that make sense to you?

“THE PROBLEM IS — and we were very close to making a settlement on $25 billion and lots of other things. And we were going to allow even a larger group of folks under DACA — you know, a generous group. And we were all set, and then shockingly, including for the Democrats, shockingly, the court said that DACA would be allowed. Once that happened, when I called up Chuck, they said, ‘Let’s see, Donald Trump? I don’t know anybody named Donald Trump.’ It was the most amazing … transformation I’ve ever heard.”

Here, Trump reiterates his view that the Dreamers (undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, have clean criminal records, and are either in school or have secured a high-school diploma) are his hostages — and he doesn’t want to negotiate over their fates until the Supreme Court lets him put loaded gun to their heads.

The president has never actually made a coherent, affirmative argument for why he canceled the Executive branch program that had allowed Dreamers to apply for temporary work permits. When his administration ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals last year, it claimed to being do so as a legal necessity: While Trump had “great heart” for the Dreamers, it was simply unconstitutional to protect them from deportation without congressional approval.

The problem with this argument, as federal judges eventually noticed, is that “deferred action has been blessed by both the the Supreme Court and Congress as a means to exercise enforcement discretion” and embraced by presidents of both parties for decades. Further, the specific features of DACA, such as work permits, are explicitly allowed under current law. (Notably, in other contexts, the Trump administration has shown little reluctance to assert the Executive branch’s immense discretion over immigration policy.)

In reality, Trump’s true argument for cancelling DACA has always been that taking Dreamers hostage just might compel Congress to pass a long list of immigration reforms that it would not otherwise be willing to countenance. But ever since federal courts revived DACA (on the grounds that the White House had failed to provide a legitimate explanation for the program’s cancellation), Trump’s hostages have become less vulnerable, and thus, less valuable. So he doesn’t want to talk about setting them free until the Supreme Court lets him kill DACA.

If Trump is not willing to move from that position, then Schumer will (almost certainly) not be willing to provide any significant wall funding. And since Republicans need Democratic cooperation in the upper chamber to pass the appropriation bills necessary for keeping the government open, it’s unclear how a stalemate over wall funding will end.

The president has indicated that he is willing to shutdown the government unless Congress coughs up $5 billion for his wall. But then, he’s also indicated that he believes he can declare the wall a national security priority, and unilaterally order the military to start building it.

If history is any guide, expect Trump to loudly advertise his displeasure about Congress rebuffing his demands, before deciding that the fight isn’t worth sacrificing Executive Time to continue.

Trump Reiterates View That the Dreamers Are His Hostages