EDITORIAL: A brief moment of presidential clarity on immigration

2018-01-11 | St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jan. 11--In an apparent effort to demonstrate his mental stability, President Donald Trump on Tuesday allowed reporters to document a 50-minute, impromptu negotiating session over immigration with congressional Democrats and Republicans. To his credit, the president remained largely coherent as he sparked an important and overdue discussion about comprehensive immigration reform.

The most notable progress concerned the status of about 800,000 young immigrants who were brought here as children and could face deportation to countries they barely know. In polls, Americans by wide majorities favor an extension of the protections provided under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. There was minimal disagreement in the room that the status of these youths requires immediate attention.

But Trump's inner demons ultimately prevailed. He insisted that his long-promised border wall must receive equal priority and is willing to risk shutting down the government if funding for it isn't included by the time government spending authority expires on Jan. 19.

Trump's 2016 campaign heaped derision and hatred on the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants, blaming them for rape, street crime, unemployment, urban decay, drugs and terrorism. The key to stopping them, he said, was a wall covering the entire 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Building the wall, and making Mexico pay for it, remains one of Trump's more delusional fantasies.

On Tuesday, Trump risked angering conservatives by declaring that he would entertain any bill Congress passes to regularize the status of the very 11 million immigrants he spent the campaign vilifying.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., lauded the president's approach. "I've been for a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people because I have no animosity toward them. I don't want crooks, I don't want 'bad hombres.' I want to get a merit-based immigration system to make sure we can succeed in the 21st century, and I'm willing to be more than fair to the 11 million," Graham told the president.

Conservative news outlets such as Breitbart immediately denounced the idea as another "amnesty" like the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which President Ronald Reagan signed, legalizing the status of 3.2 million undocumented immigrants. Republicans have long blamed the act for inviting a flood of illegal immigration in subsequent years.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, tried to reason with Trump, arguing that visa overstays account for about 40 percent of the country's current undocumented immigrant problem. Smarter technology, not a wall, can do the job better, he said.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., searched for wiggle room, insisting that "Democrats are for security at the borders; I want to state that emphatically. There is not a Democrat that is not for having secure borders."

But the president wouldn't budge: "Without the wall, we cannot have border security." So much for Trump's brief demonstration of mental stability.