During his campaign, Trump promised to overturn Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration. He came through on DAPA, the order tied up in the courts that would have helped to protect some undocumented parents. But thus far, Trump hasn’t touched DACA, which protects some 780,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, also known as the Dreamers. But he might just use the program, which is highly popular, to push other cruel immigration policies through.
On Tuesday, McClatchy reported that a group of White House officials, including yesterday’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, today’s Chief of Staff John Kelly, and the dynamic duo Javanka are urging the president to strike a larger immigration deal with Congress in exchange for protecting Dreamers. According to McClatchy, other top officials—Mike Pence, H.R. McMaster, and Gary Cohn—“are thought to agree” with the plan. So far that deal would include funding for the border wall, more detention beds, reducing legal immigration, and implementing the intrusive E-Verify program.
Immigration reform has proven to be a daunting task for previous administrations, and is an even more unlikely prospect for Trump, who has alienated his top congressional allies and has overseen disaster after legislative disaster during his first six months in office. But the mere thought of Trump using Dreamers as leverage is also harrowing—both Democrats and some Republicans will feel immense pressure to keep the program alive. The rub is that it would give hardliners a chance to push through even more draconian immigration policies. As Dara Lind wrote in Vox in July, “Once Congress agrees to crack open the door on immigration, it’s going to be hard to keep it from opening all the way, into a free-for-all over immigration policy writ large. And if DACA ends, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Congress to open that door for the sake of nearly 800,000 American-raised DREAMers.”
According to McClatchy, Kelly is keeping Stephen Miller, the far-right, anti-immigrant voice in the White House, away from Trump. But if immigration is pushed front and center in the coming months, Miller will certainly exert his influence to move the deal further to the right. This, apparently, is why Trump’s “moderate” aides have courageously decided to stay at the White House even after Trump condoned white supremacy in Charlottesville: to exert it in the realm of policy.