President Trump has two and a half weeks to make up his mind on immigration. Hours after he slammed Democrats on Monday morning for using the government shutdown to let “illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked,” the Senate reached a stopgap agreement that postpones a vote on protections for Dreamers and other immigration issues until February 8.
In the interim, Congress must figure out what to do — and what type of legislation the president will sign once it reaches his desk. Just two weeks ago Trump said he was open to a “bill of love” that would presumably shield hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Then he changed his mind and asked the infamous question: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Amid the confusion, Republican hardliners have stood their ground in pursuit of one overarching demand: fewer immigrants of any kind.
Democrats briefly used their leverage on the spending deal to force the issue on DACA and Dreamers, but in the end they capitulated in exchange for vague promise to deal with that decision before the next deadline in February. Meanwhile, immigration hardliners in Congress are not giving an inch. They want to severely limit the number of Dreamers eligible for protection from deportation and make young undocumented people help pay for Trump’s border wall. They also aim to reduce the number of legal immigrants the U.S. accepts by nearly 40 percent.
The demands are far to the right of what Democrats would normally accept, but liberals and moderates in Congress likely don’t have enough votes to pass their compromise next month, despite support from centrist Republicans like Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. And even if they did, a White House spokesman said Monday that Trump wouldn’t sign it.
"As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a cosponsor of the bipartisan bill, has blamed White House aide Stephen Miller for scuttling efforts to compromise. Miller played a central role in derailing the last serious bipartisan attempt at immigration reform in 2010, and he reportedly helped sway President Trump’s opinion on a proposal he trashed earlier this month in the Oval Office.
"As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere,” Graham said Sunday. “He's been an outlier for years."
Graham’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), would provide funding for border security — including money to start construction on Trump’s wall — prohibit citizenship for parents of Dreamers, and end the diversity lottery visa program. In exchange, Democrats would receive permanent protections for Dreamers who have been facing the prospect of deportation since Trump announced his decision last year to end DACA.
Trump and far-right Republicans in Congress are framing the Graham-Durbin bill as a risk to national security. They favor a House bill that would drastically roll back rights for Dreamers.
Here are the highlights of the Republican bill, introduced earlier this month by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), one of the most anti-immigrant members of the House. Goodlatte has an A- rating from NumbersUSA, an organization that is essentially the NRA of immigration.
- Only those who are enrolled in DACA at the time of the bill’s enactment and are not pursuing any other kind of legal status (i.e. TPS) can apply for protection from deportation. This excludes people who have already lost DACA, were too young or too old to apply when the program began, and everyone who entered the U.S. after 2007.
- No pathway to citizenship for recipients — only temporary work permits.
- Requires recipients to maintain an income that is 125 percent above the poverty level, which was $12,060 in 2017. Dipping below that line could lead to a misdemeanor charge with a penalty of up to six months in prison for the first offense and two years for the second.
- Prohibits recipients from traveling internationally for more than two weeks at a time. Violators would be punished with a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to six months in prison for the first offense and two years for the second.
- Punishes everyone who didn’t come to the U.S. as a child by making illegal presence in the U.S. a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison for the first offense and two years for the second. Currently, being in the country illegally is only a civil offense.
- Requires recipients to pay a $1,000 fee that will go toward border security. They must also pay to renew their status every three years.
- Authorizes the Department of Justice to withhold federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities.”
The proposal is a hit with nativists like Mark Krikorian, the influential leader of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for reduced immigration. Krikorian recently called it “a huge step toward an immigration policy in the national interest.” Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA), who introduced an even more restrictive immigration bill in the Senate last year that aimed to cut legal immigration by 50 percent, support Goodlatte’s bill.
“That’s really the thing that opponents of immigration care about more than anything else: a net reduction of people allowed to live in the U.S. legally"
David Bier, a policy analyst at the conservative CATO Institute, estimates that only 10 percent of the estimated 3.6 million Dreamers would be eligible to apply for the program under this plan, leaving children in the U.S. who were too young to apply for DACA vulnerable to deportation.
“The dividing line here is whether this bill will overall increase the number of people who are legally allowed to live in the U.S.,” Bier told VICE News. “That’s really the thing that opponents of immigration — legal or illegal — care about more than anything else: a net reduction of people allowed to live in the U.S. legally. That's a debate over principle that really Democrats aren’t going to concede on and Stephen Miller isn’t going to concede on either.”
Democrats have made concessions in this immigration deal, but most facets of Goodlatte’s plan are likely off the table for them. Public opinion seems to be on the side of the Democrats. The latest polling data from the Pew Research Institute shows that the American public has “clear-cut opinions” on immigration: 74 percent of voters support granting “permanent legal status” to Dreamers and 60 percent oppose a proposal to “substantially expand” the barrier along the border. Behind the numbers, however, is a stark partisan divide: Only 50 percent of Republicans support protections for Dreamers and 72 percent are in favor of building the wall.
Erika Andiola, an undocumented immigration activist who benefited from DACA, blamed the people around Trump for using Dreamers as a “political football,” offering to trade protections for policies that would build the wall and allow their undocumented parents to remain targets for deportation. Andiola, a former press secretary for Bernie Sanders, said her mother has been in deportation proceedings since 2013. ICE took a renewed interest in her mother’s case last year, Andiola said, to the point that her mother is now afraid to leave the house. She said that level of fear shows why Democrats need to negotiate for a deal that goes beyond DACA.
“If the Dream Act passes, I get citizenship but I wouldn't be able to help my mother be here with me,” she said. “She’s my mother, the person who brought me here, the person I love, the person I’ve been with all these years. It’s unacceptable.”
Cover: Immigrants take the oath of citizenship to the United States at a naturalization service on January 22, 2018 in Newark, New Jersey. Although much of the federal government was shut down Monday morning, the U.S. and Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices remained open nationwide. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)