Once-and-future Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has fired a shot across the bow of the Trump Administration on immigration. The California Democrat, popularly known as “San Fran Nan,” is preemptively signaling that Democrats won’t sign onto a deal that ties President Trump’s wall funding to a permanent fix for the DACA program.
In comments to reporters on Thursday as the House and Senate approved an extension of spending that will fund the government until Dec. 21, Pelosi rejected the idea of a compromise that would link the president’s wall project to making Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program permanent.
“They’re two different subjects,” Pelosi told the Associated Press.
It is extremely doubtful that House Democrats could be persuaded to fund the wall as part of a standalone bill. Pelosi added that many Democrats consider the wall to be “immoral, ineffective and expensive.” Even if Mexico paid for the wall as Donald Trump promised in the election, she said, “It’s immoral still.” So far, Mexico has shown no sign of being willing to fund the wall either.
Earlier this year, Democrats refused to budge on similar proposals to legalize DACA participants. A Trump Administration proposal from January would have represented a major victory for Democrats in exchange for a $25 billion commitment to the wall. That deal was scuttled by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats. Afterward, President Trump said that there would be “NO MORE DACA DEAL.”
In reality, neither side wants a comprehensive immigration deal. Republicans have long opposed comprehensive immigration reform, preferring instead to insist that border security must come first. For more than a decade, any Republican who has supported a comprehensive fix for the immigration system has been accused of supporting “amnesty” and “open borders” and is reviled by the Republican base. A significant number of Republicans opposed President Trump’s DACA deal because they thought it would benefit Democrats.
For their part, Democrats seem to prefer that the issue be kept open to provide them with a wedge that makes Republicans appear bigoted and xenophobic. As the two parties battle over the Hispanic demographic, Democrats cannot afford to let a Republican president claim credit for fixing the popular DACA program. Likewise, giving President Trump a victory on the wall, his signature issue, would boost Trump’s reelection chances and energize his base. Democrats cannot allow that.
Ironically both parties risk alienating voters with their hardline positions on immigration. Exit polls from 2018 showed that minorities are fleeing the Republican Party, but the downside may be even greater for Democrats. There were pro-DACA protests against the Democratic Party in March after the implosion of the DACA deal. If pro-immigration voters decide that Democrats are stringing them along, they may give Republicans a try.
The reality is that neither side has the numbers to enact its own unilateral immigration bill. That will be especially true when Democrats take control of the House next year, but even over the past two years, minority Democrats in the Senate were able to kill Republican bills with the filibuster.
Until the two sides decide to work together (or until one side controls both houses of Congress and the presidency and eliminates the filibuster), there will be no fix for our broken immigration system. Until that day, the border will stay open and illegal immigrants will remain in legal limbo.