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Why Donald Trump's opening offer on immigration won't work

Donald Trump last year: the border wall will cost less than $21 billion. Donald Trump this year: the border wall will cost $25 billion.
View of the U.S. - Mexico border wall on November 19, 2014 in Calexico, California.
View of the U.S. - Mexico border wall on November 19, 2014 in Calexico, California.

The White House has struggled for months to decide whether Donald Trump will come up with an immigration plan of his own, or whether he'd wait to see what Congress came up with.

Yesterday, we learned that the president and his team have made a decision and have a blueprint in place. NBC News reported:

President Donald Trump said he will support a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, according to a telephone briefing by the White House for Republican congressional staff members. [...]The call, hosted by White House adviser Stephen Miller, outlined the demands for any deal on DACA, which includes a $25 billion "trust fund" for a border wall, an end to family reunification, also called "chain migration" by conservatives, and an end to the diversity visa lottery.

What emerges is a picture in which Trump accepts DACA protections for Dreamers -- a goal the president has long claimed to support -- and in exchange, Trump also gets effectively everything he and Republican hardliners want. It's probably why Democrats responded to yesterday's news by dismissing the White House package as a non-starter.

Would other Dreamer advocates, desperate for any kind of solution, consider Trump's proposal? United We Dream's Greisa Martinez Rosas said in a written statement late yesterday, "Let's call this proposal for what it is: a white supremacist ransom note.... To Miller and Trump's white supremacist proposal, immigrant youth say: No."

This was obviously a hard-hitting sentiment, but it wasn't the only voice of opposition. For the right, Trump's proposal expands DACA eligibility, which is effectively conservative heresy. For the left, the president is trading Dreamers' futures for an unreasonable right-wing wish list that, among other things, takes a regressive approach to legal immigration.

I'm especially intrigued, however, by the demands for $25 billion for Trump's wall along the U.S./Mexico border.

A bipartisan Senate bill was prepared to endorse some funding for parts of a wall, but the president rejected the offer. Now it appears Trump is going much further, putting a $25 billion price tag on the project.

And while I suppose that's not too surprising -- he tweeted this week, "[I]f there is no Wall, there is no DACA" -- let's pause to note two relevant details.

First, remember when Trump promised voters Mexico would pay for the wall? He's now made it clear that wasn't true -- and he expects you to pay for his wall.

Second, the price itself is of interest. In February 2017, Reuters reported that the wall would $21.6 billion, based on an internal estimate prepared by the Department of Homeland Security. The figure was, at the time, well above previous assessments.

Trump wasn't pleased and pushed back against Reuters' reporting by pointing to his magical negotiating abilities, which he said would change the calculus.

"I am reading that the great border WALL will cost more than the government originally thought," the president tweeted, arbitrarily capitalizing words he considers important, "but I have not gotten involved in the design or negotiations yet." He added that the price "will come WAY DOWN."

A year later, the price has gone way up. I'll look forward to the White House's explanation.