On immigration, Trump is missing the ‘Nixon in China’ moment that could be his crowning achievement

President Trump’s immigration principles were designed to set a bright red line for any upcoming negotiations on immigration-related legislation.

And set a bright red line they did: one that divides Republicans in Congress, alienates Democrats, and pulls Americans toward the extremes on a vexing and sensitive issue.

In his transmittal letter to Congress, the President stated that without a border wall, faster deportations of unaccompanied minors, a crackdown on “sanctuary cities,” and an overhaul of the legal immigration system to drastically reduce legal entry --  among other requirements -- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients would not receive legal status. A senior administration official also made it clear that DACA recipients would not receive citizenship no matter what.

If Trump stays within these boundaries, in one fell swoop, he will have turned a victory on par with “Nixon goes to China” into just another Washington defeat – akin to the two suffered by President Obama and President George W. Bush on the very same issue.

What’s especially disappointing about the new principles is that I genuinely believe Trump wants to protect Dreamers.

The substance here is not terribly surprising. Reports of these principles have littered the news for weeks. And, if anything, they are a continuation of what the president laid out over the campaign and in his initial immigration enforcement executive orders. The policy proposals are misguided and do little to serve American workers or their families.

And that’s a shame because politically there is real momentum to bring Republicans and Democrats together. Instead of allowing members of his staff – none of whom were on the ballot in 2016 – to insert their agendas over common sense reforms, the president should seize the opportunity to make history.

Here’s how.

First, let’s increase infrastructure and staffing at ports of entry, where the majority of guns, drugs and money are smuggled. And let’s clear the sight lines along the Rio Grande River – not to enable photo ops or paint a pretty headline, but because it’s simply a risk-based and financially sound measures to keep our nation safe.

Second, children don’t leave the homes they know to cross borders alone, unless the situation is truly dire. To solve this problem before it happens, we can invest resources in the redevelopment and security of Northern Triangle countries from which women and children flee for their lives – rather than deport kids back to the violent and unstable countries they fled in the first place.

Third, let’s be clear that there is no legal definition of a “sanctuary city.” In order for the police officer on the corner to meet his oath of serving and protecting the entirety of the community, he needs the trust of the entirety of the community. Being perceived as agents of immigration enforcement does not build this trust. Threatening local law enforcement with decreased funding and unfunded and dangerous mandates only undermines the safety of all Americans.

Finally, slashing legal immigration might be the holy grail for immigration restrictionists, but it’s immoral and it’s bad for business. There is a real economic cost to dividing loved ones when you consider the ability of extended families to pool resources to start businesses, buy homes or put young people through college.

What’s especially disappointing about the new principles is that I genuinely believe Trump wants to protect Dreamers. Or, to put it in his words, find a solution “where everybody is happy.” He does not want to be the president who presides over the deportation of some 690,000 DACA recipients.

As a block of proposals, these measures do not have the political support the administration thinks they do. Democrats, much less Dreamers, will never agree to a compromise that causes such harm to Dreamers’ mothers and fathers, much less children fleeing violence. Not to mention these measures won’t win 218 Republican votes in the House, much less the necessary number in the Senate.

The question then is how does President Trump advance a serious approach?

From the middle. By finding and working with the congressional allies who are serious about solutions. They exist in both parties.

Congress should remain focused on a solution that can pass. Whether the administration’s principles were ever intended to be a part of that solution is for Congress to decide. Legislation that appropriately balances a fix for Dreamers with smart border enforcement will serve the interests of American workers and their families.

And it would deliver to President Trump a significant achievement that eluded both of his predecessors. 

Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum and author of “There Goes the Neighborhood” (Prometheus Books, April 2017).