The immigration debate: Five things to keep in mind and keep you sane

As a journalist in the Trump era, I spend my days trying to drink from a fire hydrant that is spitting out news. For the last several weeks, much of the news has been about immigrants and the immigration debate.

1. As atrociously as President Trump and the Republican Party have behaved by flirting with the “-isms” — racism, nativism, elitism, classism — Democrats are not the good guys in this drama. Not even close.

When they’re in power, they deport, deceive and deflect. Over the years, they’ve militarized the border, built walls and conceived of a sinister program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that offered undocumented youths (read “the desperate”) a two-year reprieve in exchange for turning themselves in to authorities.

They could have saved the Dreamers when they had the chance — and controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. But they didn’t want to adopt them, when they could exploit them.


2. Trump’s deal isn’t half bad. The president is offering permanent legal status and a path to citizenship 12 years down the road to 1.8 million “Dreamers” in exchange for $25 billion in border funding, an end to the diversity visa lottery and the elimination of so-called “chain migration” (read family reunification).

Citizenship was unexpected, and it was likely added as a sweetener that would make the deal irresistible to some immigrant advocates. It worked. The deal split the Left, between pragmatists and purists.

Meanwhile, Democrats are squabbling among themselves; some have rejected the deal because it came from Trump, while others see it as a starting point and welcome the opportunity to negotiate something better.


3. Republicans are also fractured. We see the nativists launching a backlash against Trump, slamming him as “Amnesty Don” for daring to propose a plan that not only legalizes the undocumented but also offers them — gasp! — citizenship.

When much of the GOP hears that word, what it hears is “voting.” Those Republicans fear the electoral spanking from newly minted voters that they so richly deserve after years of cynically portraying immigrants as dangerous and destructive to society.

But there is also a competing faction of the GOP that wants to put the immigration issue behind it, and it sees the Trump proposal as a relatively painless way to achieve that. How this tug-of-war turns out is anyone’s guess.


4. If there is one good thing about the Trump deal, it’s this: It clears the fog. Politicians will often say one thing but do another. But now, thanks to the deal, we see that some Democrats don’t really care about helping “Dreamers” get legalized and obtain citizenship; they’d rather weaponize the undocumented against the GOP.

We also see that some Republicans don’t want a single “Dreamer” to stay in this country; no matter the details of any accommodation, they’ll blast it as “amnesty.” And, by the way, they’ll be wrong about that. The a-word literally means forgiveness of wrongdoing. With “Dreamers,” who were brought to the United States without consent as children, there is no wrongdoing to forgive.


5. Both political parties need to put aside politics, give a little and work toward a reasonable compromise. Neither side will get everything it wants, but each side will get something. Each will have to share the credit, but then again neither will be alone in shouldering the blame from those who oppose the deal.

It’s easy for lawmakers in Washington — most of whom were born in the country — to minimize the life-changing effect of what it means to offer 1.8 million undocumented young people permanent legal status and a shot at citizenship. That elusive reality is finally within reach, and now members of Congress must seize it.


That’s a quick rundown. Trump drives a hard bargain, but at least this is a fair one.

Besides, Trump is entitled to dictate the terms of an immigration agreement. It comes with the office.

After all, as Barack Obama never got tired of reminding Republicans who came to him with demands over the eight years he was president, elections have consequences.

If Democrats want a better deal, they’ll have to reclaim the White House in 2020. Of course, professional politicians — who get paid whether or not they get results — have no problem waiting and rolling the dice.

You’ll have to excuse the “Dreamers” if they don’t feel the same way.

Ruben Navarrette — a contributing editor to Angelus News — is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a Daily Beast columnist, author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano” and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.”