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As the Dreamer Debate Moves Forward, Three Fundamentals to Keep in Mind

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As we move into the next phase of the Dreamer legislative debate, here are three key fundamentals that, if respected, will help get us across the finish line.

1. The core question: do Republicans want to keep Dreamers here in America or deport them? As Greg Sargent of the Washington Post framed it, do President Trump and Republicans “view the “dreamers” as deserving of a place in American life, or do they view the dreamers as an out-group who at best should be consigned to a marginal, shadowy, upended existence, and at worst should be targeted by the nation’s deportation machinery?”

In poll after poll, more than 80% of the American public, including a strong majority of Republicans, back efforts to legalize Dreamers. Just this week, the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found that Americans want to protect Dreamers by an overwhelming 87-11% margin. If Trump and Republicans actually want to solve the crisis they created, he will have to stop playing to his base and get serious about embracing and selling a workable solution that has enough bipartisan support to pass.

2. Why a two-phased debate makes sense: The framework of “Dreamers for border security” deal are clear. Broader and more time-consuming issues should be saved for a phase two negotiation. In mid-September President Trump agreed to with Senator Schumer and Leader Pelosi on a “DACA fix for border security” framework. Then his staff blew it up. During the televised White House discussion on January 9, President Trump seemed to endorse the very same framework, and he indicated an openness to addressing other immigration issues later, as part of a phase two negotiation.

Then he moved the goalposts, demanded concessions on the visa lottery and family immigration, and when Lindsay Graham and Dick Durbin presented him with just such a bipartisan package, his staff had gotten to him and he blew up — combined with the racist rant heard round the world. It’s time to get back to basics: Dreamer relief for border security, without loading it up with Stephen Miller’s poison pills, nor saddling urgently-needed negotiations that should be held over for round two negotiations.

3. The vote arithmetic: The only way an immigration reform bill gets to 60 votes in the Senate and 218 votes in the House is to combine most Democrats and some Republicans: In the last decade, the only pieces of balanced immigration reform legislation that have passed a congressional chamber were anchored to a very stubborn formula: support from most Democrats and support from some Republicans. Literally, that is the only way to get a majority to pass decent immigration reform in both chambers.

So, when hardliner Republicans — in the Congress and in the White House — are demanding 90% of their nativist agenda in exchange for 10% of the Democrat’s immigration agenda, it’s clear to veterans of these battles that this isn’t a formula for success, but a recipe for failure. Let’s apply this experience to what’s on the table today. Any proposal backed by the likes of Tom Cotton and John Cornyn in the Senate, or Bob Goodlatte in the House, will get many Republicans — but certainly not all — plus exactly zero Democrats.

On the other hand, the Hurd-Aguilar approach in the House or the Graham-Durbin approach in the Senate would get more than 218 votes in the House and 60 votes in the Senate, with most Democrats and some Republicans. But Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell resist such arithmetic because it divides their caucuses and gets members angry at them. Republicans have to decide whether they are serious about solving the problem (see number 1 above), and, if they are, they have to reckon with the fact that a bill that makes hard right conservatives comfortable is a bill that simply cannot pass either chamber.