WASHINGTON – The “Dreamers” lost again.
As you will recall, the Dreamers are illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as young children. Most have grown up as Americans; sending them back to a country where they barely lived seems a particularly heartless punishment – and self-defeating for the United States if they’re responsible and productive adults.
Happily, this is one problem for which there’s an obvious political solution. The broad outlines of a compromise are no secret: The Dreamers get legal protection to stay in the United States; in exchange, President Trump and his allies get a significant down payment on his “wall” along the southern border.
Details can be negotiated. Who exactly qualifies as a “Dreamer”? Estimates vary from 800,000 to 1.8 million. Do they get a path to citizenship, a green card allowing permanent residency, or something in between? How much money does Trump receive for his wall? Are other restrictions imposed? Each side gets something; each side accepts something it dislikes.
After all, that’s what compromise is about. The fact that this eludes Congress and the White House is a triumph of partisanship over policy. No one wants to be seen surrendering to the other side, even if compromise makes – on balance – everyone better off. The latest example of this corrosive calculus is the recent legislation preventing another government shutdown.
It presented an ideal opportunity to forge an agreement. No dice. Conventional wisdom mainly blames the Trump White House. Democrats argued that Trump couldn’t be trusted to uphold his part of a bargain. There is some truth here; Trump has constantly vacillated on his views of the Dreamers.
But this is only a partial truth. Democrats were eager to portray the wall as a colossal waste of money and the president as its mindless defender. Democrats’ underlying aim was not simply to defeat Trump but to do so in a way that was complete and humiliating.
As soon as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared in January that there would not be one dollar for the wall, any chance of a workable compromise disappeared. Compromise is impossible when one side eliminates the grounds for compromise. The Dreamers were simply hapless victims in this raw display of partisan power. All that remained was for Republican congressional leaders to negotiate their terms of surrender. Otherwise, the president and Republicans would be blamed again for shutting down the government.
The media played an important – and largely unrecognized – role in ignoring the Dreamers. With some exceptions, reporters and editors bought the story line as portrayed by Democrats that the wall was mostly a political symbol that wasn’t to be taken seriously. Coverage overlooked the plight of the Dreamers.
The media, in effect, lined up behind Democrats. Their priority was embarrassing Trump, not reaching a pragmatic compromise. The question remains: When, if ever, will the Dreamers catch a break?
(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group.