When President Trump reportedly cut a deal with Democrats last month to allow young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to remain in this country, prominent voices from the right – from Breitbart's Steve Bannon to conservative commentator Ann Coulter – exploded with criticism, calling the deal “amnesty.”
On Sunday, the president seemed to give in to the pressure, presenting Congress with a long list of immigration enforcement demands in return for any legislation that would allow these young people – about 800,000 of them – to stay legally in the US. The list includes a southern border wall, which was reportedly not part of the loose framework worked out over a presidential dinner with congressional Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer last month.
Yet many on Capitol Hill are viewing these demands as merely an opening bid in the negotiations, and not reflective of what the president may actually be willing to accept in the end. And indeed, when it comes to the president’s base of voters, he may have a surprising amount of latitude to negotiate – a finding that is backed by recent national polling, as well as a range of interviews the Monitor conducted with Trump supporters from deep-red Alabama.
“This is a wish list that was sent over from a couple people in his administration, and most people here understand that. They also know that a lot of that couldn’t even pass, just taking Republicans into account. Obviously, Democrats wouldn’t vote for it either,” says Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R) of Florida.
The congressman is part of a group of House Republicans tasked by Speaker Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin to codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA. Last month, Mr. Trump announced that the program, begun by President Barack Obama through executive action, will be phased out starting in March. He has called it unconstitutional, and thrown it to Congress to work out.
“Opposing a permanent solution for Dreamers in our country is a fringe position,” Congressman Curbelo says. “And most of the president’s supporters agree with affording these young immigrants the opportunity to stay here.”
Leeway from supporters
Indeed, that’s what the Monitor found in talking with supporters of Trump during rallies for GOP Senate candidates as Alabama neared a run-off election last month. The state is hugely pro-Trump as well as strongly against illegal immigration.
In more than 15 interviews, nearly all Trump supporters said they were fine with the president negotiating with Democrats – either on immigration, or generally. They viewed the outreach as part of his deal-making persona, and a necessary part of governing – particularly when he is getting so little help from his own party.
“The president has to deal with whomever is in government. That’s the way government is. People have to deal,” says Ken Brittin, of Montgomery, who is retired from the Air Force.
Speaking of DACA, he said that Trump “has sympathy for these people,” who are often described as contributors to society caught in an illegal limbo through no fault of their own.
Mr. Brittin says Trump is rightly getting Congress to work this out, because Mr. Obama had no authority to enact a program that lets undocumented immigrants stay and work in the US.
That’s not to say Trump supporters such as Brittin are weak on border security. Far from it. Others interviewed insisted that the president not give up his immigration goals, and one said enforcement has to come before a Dreamer deal. But most just spoke generally about the need for stronger enforcement and were open to Trump working out something on the young immigrants.
“I’m not bothered” by the president reaching out to Democrats on Dreamers, said Steve Fair, of Huntsville, waiting with his wife to get into a Trump rally. As for the wall, Mr. Fair says he’s not “hung up” on it. “I didn’t vote for him just because of the wall. It has to be practical. You have to have a starting point. You can answer the problem a ton of ways.”
Trump himself explained that at the rally. “You don’t need it all the way,” he told a packed civic center. A river and mountains are also “natural barriers,” he said. Still, there will be more wall, he insisted, describing four samples of “see-through” barrier that the administration is considering.
Polls suggest 'Dreamer' support
The definition of a wall aside, most Americans – even Trump supporters – think Dreamers should be allowed to stay, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll last month. Among Republicans, 69 percent think Dreamers should be allowed to stay, along with 84 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of independents. Among self-identified Trump supporters, two-thirds think these immigrants should be allowed to stay, according to the poll.
A new poll released on Tuesday also found strong support for Dreamers, with more than 60 percent favoring them staying in the US legally, according to the Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. It found fewer Republicans supporting, though – upwards of 40 percent.
Curbelo is confident that a deal will emerge, along the lines generally assumed before the White House sent its list on Sunday. That is, Dreamers could legally stay (though a path to citizenship is an open question), as long as border security is enhanced.
“This is going to get done. Some people might make it more difficult, but this is going to get done,” he says.