3 Steps to Changing the Negotiation Game for DACA

By November 11, 2017Negotiator's Pause

Written by CMPartners Principals Naseem Khuri and Jayne Nucete

Reframing from a win/lose proposition between Democrats and Republicans to a winning solution for our economy, our residents, and our democracy.

October 5 was the last day for DACA recipients to register for a two-year renewal of their protected immigration status. In light of President Trump’s announcement to discontinue the program less than six months from now, thousands of immigrants are now facing a terrifying uncertainty, waiting to see whether they’ll be deported to ‘home’ countries they barely know.

On October 8, the White House delivered to Congress a set of immigration measures designed to leverage the Dreamers’ vulnerable status to coerce Congress into legislative action.

The ball is now in Congress’s court, and it may be tempting for Democrats to reject the president’s request to deny him a legislative win. Such a loaded question deserves to be framed through a negotiation lens. Here’s how we’d frame it:

Should our elected officials play the win/lose game the President has chosen by stalling legislation and denying him a legislative win?

The answer is no, members should not play the president’s game, and instead aim to change it. President Trump is using DACA to strong-arm Congress and the process, using DACA recipients as a bargaining chip. Like many hard bargainers before him, the President is creating a game that defines losers and winners. When we refer to “naming and changing” the game in a negotiation context, we mean:

1)   Calling out the game-like move that you observe;

2)   Describing the consequences of continuing that game; and

3)   Leading with and committing to a different process going forward.

So let’s dive deeper. What do we even mean by a “game?”


Here’s the dangerous game the President is playing:

The president sees DACA as a means to negotiate with Congress about who can and should make laws. With no significant legislative accomplishments under his belt, the president needs a win, and instead of pushing for bipartisan cooperation, he is using the only form of negotiation he knows: hard tactics aimed at strong-arming his counterparts.

By expressing opposition to the way DACA was created (despite supporting executive privilege in other areas), he justifies dismantling it. And by setting a six month deadline on DACA to ostensibly leave time for a legislative solution, he puts DACA-supporting members in a bind: either they support a legislative option and give the president credit for “making Congress work,” or they stall legislation and jeopardize the status – and lives – of Dreamers.

Our Representatives and Senators realize that the president’s actions bait them to call his bluff. And they realize that if they play the game he has laid out, the next move would be to block legislation to see if the president will flinch and let DACA expire. This sets a scary precedent.


While it is tempting to send President Trump the message that he can’t strong-arm Congress, it is so important for Congress to not play this game, as the costs are much greater than the benefits. Calling the president’s bluff is dangerous for three reasons:

  1. If members stall legislation simply to call the president’s bluff, they are letting him define the process by which they negotiate. This only strengthens the president and reinforces such behavior.
  2. A precedent is set. Members would be normalizing such a process and making it okay to use for future negotiations on other topics.
  3. Most importantly, such a game normalizes the idea that it’s okay to make policy at the expense of an entire segment of our population. Any way you look at it, the Dreamers are pawns in this game.


Instead, Congress – and constituents – need to take control of the process: call out the president for threatening 800,000 Dreamers for his own political gains rather than advocating for any actual policy change. Do not call his bluff and stall legislation. Rather:

  • Put a human face on this vulnerable segment of our population. Dreamers are people and we recommend that you encourage your constituents to reinforce this. The healthcare battle showed us that real people (letters, town halls, etc) actually matter. The more we put a human face to these Dreamers, and the more we call out the president’s approach of using them as pawns, the more ineffective the strong-arm tactics become.
  • Acknowledge the president’s support of DACA and seek clarity about the components of legislation that he would be willing to sign. Identify mutual anddisparate interests so that you can strengthen the former and leverage the latter as tradeable elements of an agreement.
  • Inspire people to get out in the streets and call for town halls so that constituents are encouraged to speak to their representatives and senators about how DACA affects them personally. Use this opportunity to dispel myths about DACA recipients and to show the positive impacts that DACA has had on the immigrant population, including increased contribution to the US economy and higher levels of educational achievement than we saw pre-DACA.
  • Introduce the idea that Trump is actually weakening the office of the president by continuing to pass the buck to Congress. The president seems to think he can delegate tasks to Congress as he would delegate tasks in the business world, and instead of strengthening his role as a leader, this move undermines the Executive contribution to policy making. The president must engage in bipartisan efforts himself rather than simply exhorting others to do so. The conversation between President Trump, Senator Pelosi and Senator Schumer was a positive step toward enrolling the president in a future solution, notwithstanding his backtracking of the same.
  • Find a way to partner with universities and businesses, many of which are highly concerned about the termination of DACA. CEOs and university presidents could greatly impact the public discourse with statements of support for DACA.

Change the conditions, and then urge Congress to pass legislation. Changing this game will allow you to highlight the interests congressional members and the wider public share with the president. Presumably, we all want to:

  1. preserve the economic contribution of DACA recipients,
  2. create a sustainable policy that is not as vulnerable to change as an executive order, and
  3. demonstrate that bipartisan legislation is possible in Congress.

Actual people can create the conditions that allow Congress to highlight such shared interests and it’s up to them (by which we mean all of us) to hold our congressional representatives accountable. The only ‘winners’ of this game should be our economy, our residents, and our democracy.