Trump’s DACA demands don’t show his ‘love’ for immigrants, or America’s

If he gets his wish list, the president will score quite a win.
Too bad most of what he is asking for would harm the country.

These days, it’s common to hear DREAMers — and those who support them — say they’re being “held hostage” by President Trump and his hardline immigration agenda.

You can see how they got that idea. Trump claims he’ll support a bill that gives legal status to DREAMers, including as many as 800,000 young people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but only if he gets something in return.

Actually, make that four somethings.

At a White House meeting Tuesday with Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate, Trump laid out his final demands for a deal that would shield DACA recipients from deportation when the temporary permit program expires in March.

In a game-changing move, Trump allowed television cameras into the meeting. This brought clarity and transparency — even if it did seem to unnerve some of the lawmakers, who appeared less verbose and more cautious than usual.

Neither party likes dealing with the immigration issue, because it pits rival factions within the parties against one another. For that reason, the standard operating procedure is for two-faced politicians in both parties to say one thing at meetings and a totally different thing once they leave.

This time Trump laid out his demands on live TV:

  • Funding for a proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The administration has asked Congress for $18 billion over the next decade to build a few hundred miles of barriers along the border and repair a few hundred miles more.
  • Terminating what immigration restrictionists call “chain migration,” but which is really just a nativist concern that an emphasis on family reunification has allowed for the admission of too many people from Mexico and the rest of Latin America.
  • Ending a bizarre and indefensible lottery system that invites prospective immigrants to spin the wheel and try their luck in the casino of America, where admittance letters go not to those we need but those whose numbers come up;
  • Creating an elitist point system that would, in a profoundly un-American manner, give preferential treatment to skilled and educated immigrants so that getting into America is like being accepted into the Ivy League.

Republicans in Congress are likely to add another item to that list: a crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities, those imaginary localities where, legend has it, illegal immigrants can go to live happily ever after without fear of apprehension.

If he gets all that, it’ll be quite a haul for Trump, even if most of what he is asking for would harm the country.

A quick reminder about how we got here. Trump won the presidency by scaring up votes from white voters in battleground states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan whose lives hadn’t turned out the way they assumed they would.

They went looking for some external factor to blame, and Trump offered up a foil: Latino immigrants who, according to what we heard from the candidate, his surrogates and his supporters throughout the campaign, trampled our borders, took our jobs, usurped our resources, threatened our safety, eschewed our language and lowered our standard of living.

The candidate promised to remove these “bad hombres” and end DACA — Barack Obama’s executive action that gave 800,000 undocumented young people a temporary reprieve provided they turned themselves in to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and received permits. He didn’t seem to care that DACA recipients were vulnerable to deportation, despite the fact that he had previously declared his “love” for them and called them “terrific.”

Trump kept the first half of his promise by ending DACA in September, which put pressure on Congress to find a way to protect its recipients.

Some of the more vindictive Trump voters are not too keen on keeping the DREAMers. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has warned Trump not to make a DACA deal, saying it would tell the whole world “to come to America to be here for the next amnesty.”

Silly me. Here I thought reaching a deal on DACA — one that allows the United States to keep nearly a million high-achievers it can’t afford to lose — would show the world that this fabled land of immigrants really does value immigrants.

But let’s not get carried away. Even if Congress does send the president a bill to protect the DREAMers, and even if Trump signs it, this targeted rescue mission won’t do anything to fix our country’s broken immigration system.

Americans will still have an immigration problem. And that won’t change until we stop horse-trading and start telling the truth about our diminished work ethic, our addiction to illegal immigrant labor — and the consequences of both.

Ruben Navarrette Jr., a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group and host of the daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation.” Follow him on Twitter: @RubenNavarrette.