This past week was meant to be dedicated to a rare open debate on immigration in the Senate, and once again, centrist Democrats and Republicans proposed a pair of similar and reasonable compromises on what has arguably become the most charged issue of the day. Alas, they both fell before the anti-immigration furor of the Trump administration. But then President Trump’s own hard-line immigration bill fell much harder, leaving the fate of the so-called Dreamers in limbo.
The compromise measures would have resolved the fate of the Dreamers, the 1.8 million immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children and whose plight has generated broad sympathy. One bill written by a bipartisan group of senators calling itself the Common Sense Coalition would also have given Mr. Trump money for his much-ballyhooed wall along the Mexican border, though over a 10-year period, while putting off more contentious questions about immigration.
Unfortunately, Mr. Trump is not interested in resolving a difficult problem if he can exploit it for political gain. After threatening to veto any measure that didn’t include his tough demands, and getting Department of Homeland Security officials to bad-mouth the compromise measures, the president succeeded in getting most Republicans to vote against them, leaving both short of the 60 votes they needed, one by eight votes and one by six.
Minutes later, the Senate even more decisively beat the White House’s own proposal, which would have provided a path to citizenship for the Dreamers while also severely limiting family-based immigration and ending the diversity visa lottery program. The bill fell 21 votes short of the needed 60.
It is not clear what lies ahead for the Dreamers or for the congressional effort to find a solution. It’s hard to imagine that this legislative stalemate concerns the president much. Given the passions around immigration and rising tensions over midterm elections, he and conservative Republicans might be just as happy to beat their chests about Democratic obstruction to immigration reform. They could also try to blame the Democrats for the Dreamers’ loss, even though it was Mr. Trump who ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gave the Dreamers temporary protection from deportation.
Even though a moderate compromise would be a Band-Aid solution, as Mr. Trump said, leaving fundamental questions unresolved, it is about the best that can be achieved given the yawning divide over immigration. The president himself at one point expressed sympathy for the young immigrants and said he might make a deal with Democrats to protect them. At another point he said he would sign any immigration bill put on his desk. As Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, noted, most Americans would applaud a deal that takes care of the Dreamers, enhances border security and lets Mr. Trump claim victory for his wall.