Dysfunction: Is Congress Getting Ready to Punt With a Short-term, Irresponsible DACA Deal?

Posted: Feb 05, 2018 1:05 PM

Let's begin by reviewing a few dates: On September 5th of last year, the Trump administration announced its decision to end the legally-controversial Obama-era executive amnesty program known as 'DACA,' which granted so-called DREAMers (a population of eligible illegal immigrants brought to America as young children) protection from deportation and work permits.  The president acknowledged his sympathy for DACA recipients' plight and urged Congress to work out a compromise to formalize their legal status in a fair and constitutionally-sustainable way.  He gave the legislative branch six months to forge a deal, with a deadline set for March 5, 2018.  That's one month from today.  Where do negotiations stand?

Congress may just end up punting on its Dreamer dilemma. As lawmakers grasp for a solution for the young undocumented immigrants, one option is a temporary extension — perhaps one year — of their legal protections paired with a little bit of cash for border security.  “That may be where we’re headed because, you know, Congress is pretty dysfunctional,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the few to publicly acknowledge the possibility of a temporary fix. “That’d be a real loss. But that’s probably where we’re headed, OK?” Some senators are already deriding a yearlong patch as “misguided,” a “Plan Z” and a proposal that would keep immigrants “in fear.” But lawmakers have only until March 5 to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program under President Donald Trump’s deadline. And in a Congress that has routinely struggled to keep the lights on, at least some lawmakers say a temporary fix for Dreamers might be all but inevitable...There’s ample precedent for immigration programs getting extended in fits and starts. The EB-5 visa program, which grants wealthy foreign investors a shot at green cards if they invest a significant amount of money in domestic enterprises, has been routinely reauthorized in recent short-term funding bills.

There may be ample precedent for it, but it's still a dreadful way to govern.  Granted, a worse way to govern would be for the executive branch to once again overreach on this issue and unilaterally extend a program that the Trump administration has publicly deemed to be unlawful; Congress passing a "patch" would represent a marked improvement, from a process and constitutional standpoint.  But that sort of non-solution would once again underscore the maddening dysfunction of Washington.  As we have been arguing for months, there is plenty of obvious political terrain on which a compromise could be established.  The overwhelming majority of Americans want lawmakers to approve legal status for DREAMers -- and by a giant margin, people believe pairing that policy with significant steps to reduce additional illegal immigration is sensible.  This fulcrum point offers an opportunity for both parties to get part of what they want in forging an evenhanded deal, with the urgency of a ticking clock acting as a motivator.  And yet, people on the Hill are already starting to talk about lurching forward with more long-term uncertainty, leaving DREAMers in limbo, and tossing a few dollars at "border security" to save face.

Both sides are to blame.  Republicans are deeply divided over the best path forward, with a loud element of their base (but a small portion of the electorate) arguing against any amnesty for DACA-eligible illegal immigrants.  Others are willing to give Democrats everything that they want in an effectively 'clean' DREAM Act, kicking the enforcement can down the road yet again.  The White House has attempted to offer leadership on the issue with its four-pronged proposal, but it's been met with mixed reviews on the Right, and shrill attacks on the Left.  As a reminder, this is what Trump has asked for:

This is not even close to white supremacy, as Nancy Pelosi immediately and harmfully suggested it was upon its introduction.  In fact, it's a pretty reasonable package that would extend a path to citizenship for well over double the number of DACA-eligible young people who are currently enrolled in Obama's program.  On the other end of the ledger, the wall is funded, additional border control elements are installed, the (unpopular) visa lottery system is ended, and so-called chain migration (which is not a racist term) is limited (but not ended, with millions of current waitlisters grandfathered in), with an eye toward a shift to (popular) UK and Canadian-style merit-based immigration metrics.  This policy offer was met with hysterics and preening.  If Trump is willing to curb his opening bid, and perhaps replace the chain migration element with something else that Democrats have voted for in the recent past (e-verify perhaps), many conservatives will balk.  But will Democrats give ground?  This issue won't be resolved by a party-line vote, so Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi may need to get large contingents of their members to vote in favor of something that would risk enraging the perpetually-enraged open borders crowd.  

That is, of course, assuming that the Democrats have an interest in fixing this issue at all.  They might determine that the better political play is to dig in their heels, resist Trump's overtures, and blame any impasse on him.  This way, they'd (a) get to keep important pieces of their base agitated, (b) maintain DREAMers as a potent argument within the larger arena of immigration policy (on which some of their other ideas are far less supported), and (c) set themselves up to pass something much less enforcement-centric when they win back control of at least half of Congress later this year, which they are confident they will.  On the flip side of this, Republicans should recognize that fixing an issue that most voters want fixed, treating the DREAMer population fairly, and depriving Democrats of this perennial heart-strings talking point while they have major leverage to extract security concessions isn't a bad hand to play.  I'll leave you with a third date: February 8.  In order to help end the failed Schumer Shutdown last month, Mitch McConnell agreed that if the government remains open after that date (tick tock), and if the DACA issue remained unresolved, he would allow the legislative process to move forward on standalone bills to address the issue.  And this is the sort of 'bipartisan solution' Democrats are likely to rally around:

Chauvin: The Case Against the Mob
Ann Coulter

Amnesty now, a border security "study," and maybe a wall later.  This is laughable and should be considered a complete nonstarter.  In fact, it should be greeted as if Republicans had put forward a DREAM Act 'compromise' that entailed full funding for the wall, plus the entire RAISE Act, with just a one-year DACA extension tacked on.  In short, it's not serious, and has no chance of passing the House.  But it's instructive because it represents the sort of "bargain" that could very well end up on the president's desk if the Senate were to pass it (there are enough Republicans who'd go along with a weak bill) with Nancy Pelosi potentially holding the Speaker's gavel next year.  Sure, Trump might veto it.  Or he might feel cornered or desirous of burnishing his dealmaking credentials in that moment.  The GOP has a window, right now, to address several immigration challenges equitably and responsibly.  Will they squander it with internal squabbling?  Will Democrats help pass anything that's remotely serious about enforcement?  As they ponder that latter question, here's a warning shot from voters, just in case they're yearning for another shutdown showdown over the issue: