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President Donald Trump may or may not be sincere in trying to reach a bipartisan deal on immigration.

Regardless, though, it would help if he knew when to just keep his mouth shut.

On Tuesday, Trump made waves (and raised hopes) when he convened a bipartisan meeting and laid out the framework of what could be a deal on immigration. Here are the general outlines of that deal:

• Offer protection to the 800,000 or so young immigrants who came to this county illegally, often as very young children who entered the country with their parents.  The status of these immigrants, the so-called "Dreamers," has been in limbo since Trump said he was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protected them against deportation.

• Limit family-based immigration, in which one relative can sponsor another; Trump often calls this "chain migration."

• End the diversity visa lottery system.

• Improve border security. Trump also has broadly suggested that he might consider means other than his proposed border wall to do this, and the fact is that other high-tech methods likely would be a better investment.

On Wednesday, Republicans in the House stepped forward with their own plan, which clashed with the deal Trump was pitching the day before: Their proposal would crack down on illegal immigration and dramatically reduce the number of legal immigrants coming to the United States. But Trump on Tuesday had anticipated something like this, and said then that he was willing to take the heat.

Then came Thursday, when Trump was in the middle of a meeting with members of Congress at the White House. According to an account in The New York Times, they were discussing the emerging deal on immigration when Trump expressed alarm at the fact that the deal could benefit Haitians. He asked that they be left out of the deal and apparently also used a vulgar term to describe countries in Africa. The implication was clear: Trump doesn't want those people coming to the United States. In fact, he also apparently said that he would prefer immigrants to the United States come from places like Norway.

So once again, it remains unclear exactly what Trump actually believes about immigration — although, judging from the available evidence, it seems to be whatever comes to his mind. 

Trump's remarks (and "ill-considered" is too mild a term to characterize them, but we'll leave it at that for the time being) certainly don't help the cause of the immigration deal the president himself was pushing just two days before. 

But it's not out of the question that Trump could work to get the deal back on track. You may have noticed that this president rarely apologizes for anything he says, but he could consider that option here. (More likely, he'll just deny saying this, but it was telling that hours went by after the news broke on Thursday without any such denial — or, for that matter, confirmation — from the White House.)

Assuming he's serious about immigration reform, Trump then could prepare to take the heat, as he put it, as he worked toward these key goals: Revamping our system for dealing with guest workers so it connects better with the employers who need those workers. Offering legal immigrants clearly designated and relatively straightforward paths to citizenship. Crafting humane and rational policies to deal with refugees. And, yes, developing more effective strategies to guard the border. (Here's a spoiler alert: Effective strategies to do that likely won't involve building the wall.)

President Richard Nixon, a Cold War hardliner, opened a new era in American diplomacy by going to China. Trump's China moment could involve spearheading the immigration reform we've needed for decades in the United States. But he needs to demonstrate — in actions and, yes, in carefully chosen words — that he's serious about this work. (mm)


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