Donald Trump probably shouldn’t have suggested — not in public, at least — that Haiti and other nations that send refugees and immigrants to the United States are “s-holes.” It’s not only demeaning; it adds insult to injury.
Haiti has struggled mightily for decades — even longer actually — to build a viable economy and political system. The country remains highly impoverished, in stark contrast to the Dominican Republic, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola. And for much of this time, Haiti’s leaders have inflicted a terrible repression on their citizenry.
But even if Mr. Trump should apologize — and he probably should — whether he does or not can’t justify Democrats citing Mr. Trump’s remarks as a reason to walk away from a long-awaited deal to grant permanent legal status to nearly a million children of undocumented immigrants.
Whether Mr. Trump thinks some countries shouldn’t be allowed to send immigrants to the United States has nothing to do with the disposition of the Dreamers. In fact, Mr. Trump’s insistence on supporting the Dreamers — in the face of considerable Republican opposition — should be taken as prima facie evidence that despite his unfortunate rhetoric, he doesn’t actually consider poor countries to be “s-holes.”
Some of the countries the Dreamers hail from are almost as bad off as Haiti — Honduras, for example, where conditions are so bad that children flee from the countryside on their own, not even waiting for their parents to accompany them.
In El Salvador, ravaged by civil war for two decades, the country is facing a non-stop crime wave. Gangs like MS-13 that are shooting up American streets in Los Angeles and Northern Virginia — and which have been formally designated a US “national security threat” — rule the roost there.
No, this latest controversy has nothing to do with racism. But it has everything to do with politics.
The Democrats have grown fearful that Mr. Trump, under siege for most of his first year in office, is suddenly on a roll. The economy is booming and consumer confidence is at an all-time high.
The war against ISIS has turned in the West’s favor.
Then there was Mr. Trump’s victory on tax reform. It showed that the president, despite persistent criticism that he’s bumbling, ineffective, a Russian puppet, and above all, mentally unfit, can actually pass major legislation — that he can “govern.” Even worse, there was another even more popular legislative initiative waiting in the wings — support for the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Not something Democrats can credibly resist.
So, suddenly, Democrats were beginning to look at an unfavorable climate developing en route to the 2018 midterms. That great “blue” wave? Well, a growing number of commentators were suggesting that it might not come to pass.
But the real trigger was rumbling from the party’s progressive base, including its Latino wing. Were senior Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer and even Sen. Dick Durbin, the original architect of the DREAM Act, preparing to sell out American immigrants by giving Mr. Trump his wall and agreeing to reduce annual visas?
Mr. Schumer and Mr. Durbin have been trying to reassure nervous supporters that they have no intention of caving into Mr. Trump’s overall agenda. But agreeing to terminate the “diversity” visa lottery — a symbol of America’s commitment to welcome immigrants from all countries and all walks of life — was a red flag for some.
So was the willingness of Schumer & Co. to see family “re-unification” visas — the historic cornerstone of the current immigration system — scaled back.
Now, in reality, these measures have been on the table for quite some time — in fact, they date to the Bipartisan Commission on Immigration Reform — a blue-ribbon panel established by none other than Bill Clinton — back in 1995.
And for the past several years, the “Gang of Eight” — a bipartisan group in the House and Senate long vilified by Mr. Trump’s base — have included them, or variants of them, too.
But here’s the rub: Democrats had long expected to claim credit for proposing such compromises in the context of a sweeping amnesty that would transform 15 million undocumented immigrants into citizens and new voters — most of them, presumably Democrat-aligned.
No longer. It’s Republicans — with the dreaded Mr. Trump at the helm — that now stand to sign their names to the most sweeping immigration reform legislation since Ronald Reagan and IRCA in 1986.
Apparently, it was just too much. Democrats would rather just sabotage reform if it means giving away the mantle of leadership on immigration — and being publicly denounced by other Democrats at a time when the party desperately needs more unity to win back the House in November.
Nothing builds unity among Democrats faster than standing defiantly in opposition to that “racist Trump.”
Too bad the Dreamers, who have waited so long for relief — and the rest of us, just eager to see government work — have to suffer the consequences.
• Stewart Lawrence is a Washington writer.
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