Trump: Let's do a short-term DACA deal

It’s getting to be crunch time on Capitol Hill for budgeteers, with the continuing resolution from last month’s 18-month spending agreement set to run out in nine days. The agreement should prevent a shutdown by gaining support for an omnibus bill to complete the FY2018 budget once and for all, but the fight over DACA and the border wall still has appropriators at odds. Donald Trump had insisted on a deal with his “four pillars,” but today the White House says he’ll take a short-term deal in the meantime to get the budget completed:

White House officials have told key Republican leaders on Capitol Hill that President Trump is open to cutting a deal in an upcoming spending bill to protect young immigrants from deportation in exchange for border wall funding, according to four GOP officials briefed on the talks. …


One idea under consideration is a three-year extension of the DACA program in exchange for three years of wall funding, according to a GOP official. This official said talks were fluid.

This sounds much like the compromise floated by Jeff Flake two weeks ago. Flake said he had bipartisan support for a deal that would extend DACA in place in exchange for three years of border-wall funding, roughly $7 billion, but that Trump had to drop his insistence on changes to “chain migration” policies and the elimination of the visa lottery system. The White House said at that time that Trump considered his four-pillars proposal to already be a significant compromise and he wanted the whole $25 billion for the wall up front.

The Washington Post points out that this deal could boot immigration reform to well past the next presidential election:

The outlines of the deal Trump is now willing to explore are much narrower, said the officials familiar with the offer: a two- or three-year extension of the DACA program, which now protects about 690,000 immigrants, coupled with an unspecified amount of border wall funding — hewing to a framework that some GOP moderates explored in the aftermath of February’s failed Senate votes.

A three-year DACA extension could essentially remove immigration from the congressional agenda until after the 2020 presidential election by removing the threat of deportation for the young immigrants covered by the program.

That might kick the can down the road for another two-plus years, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will. For one thing, the deal would freeze the program in place, which leaves ICE free to enforce the law against those who never applied for the program while it was still open. Those enforcement actions would invariably put political pressure on both parties to resolve the so-called “dreamer” issue permanently and completely.

It also ignores the delicate legal status of DACA. For now, courts have prevented Trump from closing down the program, but mainly on technical grounds. Courts have recognized presidential authority for regulatory changes, but have ruled that the Trump administration didn’t follow the legal process to make them. If Trump ramps up those efforts, he could moot those court rulings. A budget deal would likely include agreements to delay those efforts, but the courts are also still considering whether DACA was unconstitutional in the first place. It’s entirely possible that the Supreme Court will take that up in its next term, meaning that the program could be ended abruptly sometime in 2019. Democrats might need to make a deal ahead of that while they still have enough leverage to score some wins.

In the meantime, Trump gets a head start on the border wall and can start planning on finding other funding for it as needed. He can’t build it all at once anyway, but DHS can start addressing the most acute locations first and learn valuable lessons from those early installations it can apply later. It’s not ideal, as the magnet of family-reunification policies still remain, but it’s at least a start. That, of course, was Flake’s argument at the end of last month, but don’t expect the White House to mention that if this deal comes to pass.