Frank Sharry: Trump tries to trade a million immigrants he took hostage early in his presidency for the release of 800,000 federal workers

Washington, DC, Jan. 20, 2019 – In a new piece for The Daily Beast, Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, responds to President Trump’s speech on Saturday.

He urges Democrats to reject Trump’s latest proposal in which he offers to “trade a million immigrants he took hostage early in his presidency for a deal that would release his other hostages: the 800,000 federal government workers affected by the shutdown.”

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The article is available below, and online here (for Daily Beast members only):

Having spent my entire professional life fighting to legalize undocumented immigrants in America, today’s speech by President Donald Trump should have been a big day.

An unpopular president who has used an unpopular tactic in pursuit of an unpopular border wall finds himself in a jam. To get out of it, he promises to put on the table relief for one million undocumented immigrants: Dreamers who grew up in America, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders who have lived here for nearly two decades.

Breakthrough, right?

Unfortunately, not.

After much hype, Trump’s speech turned out to be a warmed over version of his failed Oval Office address just days ago. Sure, he sprinkled some faux relief for Dreamers and TPS holders on top. But for those of us hoping for something bold and balanced, the speech was yet another failed public relations gesture.

Trump wasn’t stretching for a deal to end the shutdown, he was hoping to shore up GOP support in Congress and to get the media to blame both sides—all in the service of trying to increase his limited leverage as the shutdown continues.

As for Dreamers and TPS holders, Trump is the source of the problem he’s now pledging to fix. He ended both programs in the first two years of his presidency, putting one million deeply-rooted immigrants — students, workers, business owners and homeowners who are American in all but paperwork—on a path to deportation.

Fortunately, as is often the case with Trump’s cruel immigration moves, federal judges have stepped in, continued the programs, and extended work permits for DACA and TPS beneficiaries. But the fact that judges have intervened shouldn’t mean Trump gets to use these immigrants as bargaining chips.

Today, Trump tried to trade a million immigrants he took hostage early in his presidency for a deal that would release his other hostages: the 800,000 federal government workers affected by the shutdown.

One of the other big policy questions in the mix relates to asylum. Trump, his top policy adviser Stephen Miller and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen regularly rail about what they call “asylum loopholes.” From the administration that put kids in cages and ripped kids from their parents, the legislative “reforms” they demand would make it easier to put kids in detention centers and deport immigrant kids to the violence they fled.

Enter the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in the shutdown discussions. From all reports, he quickly learns that legislative proposals that hurt innocent kids will be be dead on arrival with the Democrats, which, naturally, results in him being pitted against Miller. While we await the insider reporting on how that showdown actually went down, the President’s speech strongly indicates that Stephen Miller won the day.

The asylum “reform” Trump mentioned in his speech is code for policies that would result in kids and their families being detained indefinitely in U.S. internment camps and unaccompanied minors being deported to their deaths in Central America. As Senator Dianne Feinstein, the author of the legislation protecting unaccompanied kids, likes to say, policies that keep little kids out of facilities designed for adults and give them the opportunity to apply for asylum before specially trained asylum officers and immigration judges “are not loopholes.” For Democrats who fought and enacted such legislation, Trump’s “reforms” are poison pills.

For those of us in immigration world, It’s no surprise that Stephen Miller is undermining any chance of reasonable compromise. He made sure DACA and TPS were ended in the first place. He made sure that every time a serious bipartisan proposal on DACA and TPS was brought to the President, the hardliners on the inside (then Chief of Staff John Kelly, Senator Tom Cotton, Rep. Bob Goodlatte) and the outside (AnnCoulter, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh) would scream “amnesty” and “sell out” loud enough to scare Trump off. Miller made sure to torpedo the bipartisan Senate bill that would have allocated $25 billion for border security in exchange for the full Dream Act, foreclosing Trump’s best, last shot at getting money for his stupid wall.

As long as Miller has the President’s ear, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a decent deal that Democrats could embrace.

So, here we are. An incompetent White House fails again. First, they close down the government to please right-wing talkers without an exit strategy. Then they negotiate their big bipartisan strategy amongst only themselves. Finally, they roll out a package that is easy for Democrats to dismiss. They remain responsible for the longest government shutdown in American history.

As someone who wants nothing more than to see America put millions of undocumented immigrants on a path to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship, I am deeply disappointed. I wanted Trump and team to make it hard for us. I wanted them to stretch so it would leave Democrats and advocates scrambling for a unified position. I wanted them to be bold in an attempt to create a breakthrough.

They did none of these.

The next few days are predictable. Trump will claim he hit a home run. GOP members of Congress will call Trump a statesman. Ann Coulter’s head will explode. Mitch McConnell will try to muster the votes for Trump’s proposal. Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz and other presidential wannabes will announce their opposition to “amnesty.” Democrats and two-thirds of the country will continue to insist that Trump and McConnell open the government now, and discuss immigration later.

And 800,000 federal workers will desperately seek to keep their families housed and fed, all because Trump likes to take and hold hostages.