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Navarrette: Trump is in over his head on Dreamers issue

SAN DIEGO—Donald Trump wrote the book on the art of the deal.

Now he says he wants to cut a deal with the Dreamers.

At issue is the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. In a sneaky twist on self-deportation, President Obama conned 800,000 undocumented young people into turning themselves into Immigration and Customs Enforcement in exchange for a temporary reprieve. Yet the only "action" being deferred was deportation.

In time, the Dreamers might have figured out that the Democratic president was not the friend he pretended to be.

But, as usual, Trump made the DACA story all about him when he terminated the program last year. If nothing is done, Dreamers could be deported after the program expires on March 5.

Oddly, Trump had previously told reporters that he "loved" the Dreamers and that the high achievers were "terrific."

Comments like those help explain why Dreamers have made such a large imprint on the immigration debate. According to polls, most Americans don't think we should punish young people brought here as children for the sins of their parents or uproot them from the only country they know.

This is why liberals want to keep the Dreamers in the mix as part of the larger pool of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. It's also why conservatives want to peel them off with a special accommodation—which could make it easier to deport the rest.

Meanwhile, Trump claims he'll support a bill giving legal protection to Dreamers—especially if, in return, he gets a truckload of goodies from Congress. He wants funding for a proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and support for his administration's crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities. He also wants a radical revamp of the overall immigration system. The number of legal immigrants admitted to the United States each year would be cut in half. And there would also be an end to the practice that some call "chain migration" while giving preferential treatment to skilled and educated immigrants.

What Trump is asking for has nothing to do with Dreamers. It's about shaping U.S. immigration policy going forward—which, although Republicans refused to admit it when Obama was in the White House, a president has the right to do. So if the Dreamers can get Trump and Congress to improve on DACA by giving them permanent legal status, even if it doesn't come with citizenship, they'd be wise to take the deal.

Yet, apart from serving the narrow interests of the Dreamers, the proposed bargain would be bad for the country. And the terms are sure to be harmful to the immigration debate. The concern isn't that Trump is asking too much. It's that what he's asking for is impractical. Some of it doesn't make sense. Other parts won't work. And, overall, the items on his wish list would make America weaker.

Take funding for the wall, which is expected to run as high as $25 billion. Forget Democrats. Republican budget hawks will never sign that check, not for a publicity stunt on the border that won't keep out the desperate, destitute and determined.

Or the administration's war on alleged sanctuary cities, those make-believe municipalities where federal immigration law doesn't exist and illegal immigrants live happily ever after. If you want to visit one of these places, follow the signs for Fantasyland.

Then there's the targeting of chain migration, where immigrants bring in family members. What many people are really worried about is changing demographics. But you don't say so because you don't want to be called racist—even though you kind of are.

Finally, there's the offensive idea of making America tougher to get into than the Ivy League—with an elitist point system that would have kept out most of the Italian, Irish and Jewish immigrants who helped build this country. It's absurd. There is all this loose talk about how the United States should only admit immigrants with high education and valuable skills. Yet the people pushing this idea aren't smart enough to understand the value of the skills most immigrants bring to this country—like ambition, perseverance, optimism, ingenuity or work ethic.

Trump probably thinks that, by asking for a slew of concessions on immigration, he is showing Americans that he's a tough negotiator. But all the president is demonstrating is that—on this issue—he is in way over his head.

And that's a big deal.

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