Here's why an immigration deal can't be reached

Pool/Getty ImagesPresident Donald Trump at the G-20 summit.

  • Both supporters and opponents see more to lose from an immigration deal than to gain.
  • A court decision means a deal isn’t truly necessary before March 5.
  • What Congress can delay, it will.

So, all four immigration proposals failed Thursday in the Senate, where they needed 60 votes to pass. The president’s preferred plan couldn’t even get 40 votes.

Where does that leave us?

I wrote a few weeks ago that an immigration deal was unlikely because each side feels it has more to lose than to win from a deal. That remains true.

For immigration supporters, the permanent reductions in immigration President Donald Trump wants aren’t worth giving in exchange for codification of DACA. And for opponents, promises of future enforcement aren’t enough to agree to an amnesty. They’re inclined to shoot for the stars and ask for changes to which Democrats (and some Republicans) will never agree.

The result is what we saw today: stalemate.

Looming over the whole fight, and reducing the urgency to reach a deal, is the fact that Trump’s effort to end DACA is tied up in the federal courts.

Trump’s March 5 deadline to end the program, therefore, is not a real deadline. Under a court order, the Trump administration continues to renew DACA permits and even issue replacements to former participants whose permits had expired, and will continue to do so after March 5.

Trump is likely to eventually prevail in the Supreme Court and be allowed to end DACA, which was created by executive order and therefore can presumably be ended by executive order. But that legal process will take months, and Trump’s Justice Department has not sought to expedite the process as much as it could have, to the surprise of immigration supporters and opponents.

Because of those court delays, the immigration status quo may be sustainable for many months to come, maybe even until after Election Day. And since this Congress rarely does things it doesn’t need to, I would expect them to take “advantage” of the delay by not fixing any immigration issues.

If Trump wants to force a showdown over DACA, he could ask the Supreme Court to stay the lower court decision keeping the program going, before it actually conducts its own review. But if Trump was willing to do that as a pressure play, why hasn’t he done it already?

My guess is he’s afraid of the political consequences of actually ending the DACA program – he wants it as a bargaining chip, but knows subjecting DACA participants to deportation would be politically damaging for him.

Thursday’s votes don’t change that calculus.

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