Can Ryan Push Trump Toward ‘Humane’ Solution on DREAMers?

The speaker told CNN that he’s working with Trump officials to spare DREAMers the worst. A win-win for the president-elect—if he takes it.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

As Speaker of the House Paul Ryan noted during a CNN town hall Thursday night, Congressional Republicans are working with the Trump administration to develop a “humane solution” to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“If you’re worried about some deportation force knocking on your door this year,” Ryan told a questioner at the town hall, “don’t worry about that.”

This is urgent because President-elect Donald Trump is expected to repeal President Barack Obama’s executive order, which shields minors brought here through no fault of their own. These minors are often referred to as DREAMers after the failed DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), which generally refers to “illegal aliens under 35 seeking full or partial” amnesty.

The clearly pressing issue came up several times during the confirmation hearing for Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions. During one exchange, Sen. Sessions described Obama’s 2012 executive order shielding these children as constitutionally “questionable.” But Sessions ultimately said it was a legislative issue. Another interesting spin on this is having Sessions out of the U.S. Senate and in a position where he will not be weighing in on the issue rhetorically.

And General John Kelly, during his confirmation hearing for Homeland Security Director, said “law abiding individuals… would probably not be at the top of the list” of people to deport.

Clearly, this is something that must be addressed. “I think we have to come up with a solution for the DACA kids—and that’s something we in Congress and the Trump transition team are working on, is what’s a good, humane solution,” Ryan said on CNN.

So what is the good, humane solution?

According to my sources, there are two potential options being discussed: 1) keep DACA in place for six months to a year and have Congress pass a fix (perhaps as part of a larger border security bill), or 2) repeal DACA but allow continuation for work permits (so DREAMers can earn a living while Congress hammers out the details), and assign them a low deportation priority until Congress can pass a fix. Finally, Congress—not a presidential executive order—must codify this carve-out into law.

This last part is key, in that it acknowledges that a fundamental problem with DACA is that President Obama’s unilateral order trampled on the rule of law and separation of powers—not that the notion of crafting a way to compassionately deal with these youths was wrong.

“As you know, under the Separation of Powers, presidents don’t write laws,” Speaker Ryan told Jake Tapper during that CNN town hall. “Congress writes laws. The elected legislative branch of government are the ones who would write the laws.”

While some may see this new framework as a departure for Trump, it would be consistent with some of his recent comments. “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” he told Time magazine. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

One theory is that there is campaign Trump and then there’s governing Trump. But it’s also consistent with a Donald Trump who likes to do deals (one compromise might include paying restitution, such as a fine, or performing community service), likes to be seen as pragmatic, and wants to be liked. For President Trump to look like he’s against all foreigners and sort of inhumane and cruel about it is not in anybody’s best interest—especially his. Solving this problem would play into his image as a sort of savior, like the Czar who at the last moment stays the execution of Dostoyevsky. By demonstrating an act of mercy, Trump also reinforces his power.

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What is more, this could be his “Only Nixon can go to China” moment. In other words, because Trump plans to build a wall (why not time this move to coincide with the funding of that wall?), deport criminal aliens, punish sanctuary cities, etc., he may have the political leverage to keep some 740,000 young people from being deported (those who came here as minors before June 2007 and have avoided a felony or serious misdemeanor conviction). This could end up being a bipartisan compromise that allows Trump to give his base the things they really care about, while simultaneously making a common-sense compromise that could defang the left.

As such, this reform could serve as a bargaining chip to actually help push through more hawkish immigration policies. “If it could help get the votes for more money for the wall, how would they feel about letting them stay?” said one conservative immigration expert I talked to. And, of course, it potentially corners Democrats. “In a way, the Democrats want nothing more than to see Donald Trump… rounding up young valedictorians and tearing them away from their families and sending them home,” the source continued.

Even ardent anti-immigration reform activists realize that deporting DREAMers would have negative political ramifications. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies (a group that supports restrictive immigration policies), told Politico, “Why would you spend time going through a database of telegenic illegal aliens when you’ve got wife beaters and drunk drivers to deport?” Krikorian continued, “Purely as a matter of PR, it’s hilariously improbable to do that.”

All the stars seem to be aligning for President Trump to get this done. It may be one of those rare moments where virtue, good public policy, and smart politics all converge.