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Democrats would be crazy to reject Trump's DACA deal

  • President Trump's DACA immigration offer massively expands the number of so-called Dreamers who will get amnesty and citizenship.
  • If the Democrats accept the deal, it would intensify the rift between right wing Republicans, who are angry about the offer, and the president.
  • Democrats are publicly blasting the proposal. Here are three reasons they should take it and run.
Demonstrators hold signs during a rally supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), or the Dream Act, outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., Jan. 18, 2018.
Zach Gibson | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Demonstrators hold signs during a rally supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), or the Dream Act, outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., Jan. 18, 2018.

The Trump administration has finally made a detailed and public proposal on what to do about the so-called "Dreamer" illegal immigrants who came to this country as children.

Predictably in this climate of political rancor, leading Democrats are already slamming President Trump's offer. But even a casual analysis of the White House plan shows why the Democrats would be crazy to reject it. Though it's not the "skinny deal" that would more easily pass, it does offer Democrats a number of benefits and a chance to save face after the shutdown mess.

First, the Trump offer covers a surprisingly larger number of illegal immigrants than expected. The White House plan more than doubles the number of people who could take advantage of its pathway to citizenship.

It would include not just the roughly 700,000 Dreamer immigrants who have applied for DACA protection since 2012, but an additional 1.1 million illegal immigrants who could have qualified but have not yet applied.

That's a major gift from the administration any way you look at it. Democrats were hoping to come out of these eventual negotiations with protections for about 800,000 people. But without even presenting a counteroffer, they're being offered protection for 1.8 million.

"If the Democrats reject this deal they will be forgoing the benefits of a possible civil war within the Republican Party."

This is not only an unsolicited concession from the White House, but it also flies in the face of the strong advice from GOP congressional leaders like Senator John Thune who urged the Trump team to present a much narrower deal.

Second, the demands President Trump makes in return for that massive amnesty expansion aren't as harsh as they look from the headlines. We already know there is at least some Democratic support for the $25 billion the president wants for border security and an enhanced border wall.

Even though Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer officially pulled support for that money earlier this week, he agreed to it once before; he can do it again.

Tougher issues for the Democrats to accept, at least on the surface, are Trump's demand to limit chain, or family, migration. That is, our longstanding policy since 1965 that grants immigration preference to people with family members already living legally in the U.S. The argument behind giving this preference is that people with existing family ties in the U.S. will more likely have a built in financial and emotional support system that will make integrating into their new country easier.

But "limiting" chain migration is the better word to use to describe the president's promise to "end" it. That's because several reports say the millions of people with family connections to immigrants already living in this country would not be removed from the current waiting list. Also, the Trump plan will still allow Dreamer spouses and their minor children to come into the country and join those Dreamer spouses and parents.

Chain migration would thus continue at the same pace as the backlog will take years to process. In other words, chain migration may end in several years only if future presidents and Congress don't revive it. That's a win today for Democrats with plenty of time to avoid a loss tomorrow.

Meanwhile, those 1.8 million illegal immigrants will already be on a much more irreversible path to citizenship. And it would be basically irreversible because no presidential administration has dared to even try to rescind immigration amnesties provided by previous presidents. President Trump came closest by announcing last year that he would suspend DACA applications in the future. But now even he is offering a bigger amnesty.

The proposal to end the draft lottery immediately might actually be tougher to get around, but that seems like a very small concession for what the Democrats are getting in return. The program brings in about 50,000 immigrants per year to the U.S. On the numbers alone, that's trading 50,000 immigrants from one program for an additional one million plus immigrants instantly approved by the Trump administration.

On the political front, the lottery has become a hotter potato as well. The diversity lottery is being blamed for allowing terror attack suspects into the country like Sayfullo Saipov, who allegedly carried out last November's truck attack in New York City and Hesham Mohamed Ali Hedayet who opened fire at the El Al Airlines ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport in 2002, murdering two ticket agents and wounded three others.

Finally, if the Democrats reject this deal they will be forgoing the benefits of a possible civil war within the Republican Party. Anti-illegal immigration hawks are angry about the Trump proposal. Texas Senator Ted Cruz is publicly opposing the Trump offer of a path to citizenship for the Dreamers, and Breitbart News even calling the president "Amnesty Don."

Anyone who thinks that right wing factions of the GOP can't severely damage a Republican's political fortunes based on immigration policy alone should ask Jeb Bush how that worked out for him in the 2016 primaries.

Yes, it's a cynical reality. But for Democrats who have bet so much on resisting and trying to weaken President Trump at every turn, they couldn't help but benefit from this intramural immigration backlash against the president.

The only reasonable argument the Democrats could make to hold off on accepting this deal is that perhaps they might be able to ply even more out of the White House once negotiations start for real.

Speaking of those negotiations, perhaps the Democrats' public complaints about the Trump plan so far are just political theater. But the reality is they're already getting a multi-front victory handed to them. Will they be smart enough to take it?

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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