To start with, it was puzzling when President Donald Trump had an hour's worth of televised negotiating with members of Congress on rescuing the 800,000 or so "Dreamers" the other day. He seemed to say that, with no conditions attached, he would support a bill legalizing these young immigrants brought into the United States illegally by their parents.
Then he made it clear he also wanted more border security. Later, after TV cameras left, he listed other wishes, such as different rules for legal migration and getting rid of a diversity immigration program.
Consider other complicating factors. A federal judge decided a presidential fiat coming from Barack Obama on the Dreamers was OK but not one coming from Trump. The issue of legalizing the Dreamers is also part of a budget bill that could cause a government shutdown if it is not passed or Trump offers up a veto. And Democrats in the Senate have an advantage because there are four Republicans who could join 49 Democrats to pass what the Democrats want and is contrary to what the House passes.
All of this started, of course, with Obama. He set a record of deporting 2.2 million illegal immigrants, focusing on law-breakers who included lots of people stopped for traffic violations.
He then decided to legalize the Dreamers. He wanted Congress to pass a law and said publicly a dozen and more times that it would be unconstitutional for him to act unilaterally. He was right, but he did, and now we have this judge saying it was within executive parameters to bypass Congress. There are technical issues here, but it makes you wonder if someone will someday say it is OK to bypass activist courts.
Trump took action that would end the program by March, but, as he confirmed in his talks with Democrats and Republicans, wanted other measures, such as improved border security. He is right if E-Verify extensions are included, because any legalizing provision is likely to encourage more illegal immigrants to come our way.
But an $18 billion wall? No. It would be impractical, and there are technological answers that would be more effective and cheaper. On the subject of money, however, the Democrats have Trump beat. Some of them want to extend federal benefits to the Dreamers at a $26 billion cost.
Our president also seems to me right in wanting to change the chief criterion for legal entry. It is that you are the relative of immigrants already here. Instead, how about taking a close look at the 2 million or so people who apply every year and figure out which ones have the skills, education and other qualities that would promise quick assimilation and a boon to the economy? We can make this land sparkle even more by choosing those we most need, including some unskilled.
Another Trump hope is to end a kind craziness that says, look, let's have a lottery each year to choose some immigrants out of countries from which we don't get many immigrants. Why exactly? Why is that better than choosing people we most need, who are just as human and worthy of our sympathy as those less likely to confer benefits or who come from other places? I have nothing against accepting immigrants from those countries, but why a special outreach and why a lottery?
The judicial ruling could upend all of this. And some Democrats and Republicans in Congress still seem mightily at odds, while there is also disagreement even within the parties. And yet there is also reported momentum in arriving at something most can live with.
In the end, it just could be that, even in the confusion we call Washington, Trump's dealing was artful enough to carry the day.