It's technically infrastructure week in Washington, but immigration is front and center in the Senate, as Mitch McConnell follows through on his post-'Schumer shutdown' pledge to permit the legislative process to move forward on DACA-related bills. A group of conservative Senators rolled out their proposal on Sunday, which we'll briefly explore below -- but first, here's a so-called 'DREAMer' (an illegal immigrant brought to America as a child) voicing a distinctly different view of the ongoing negotiations than is typically raised by the hardline activists typically featured in the press. The Left spotlights DACA-eligible illegal immigrants who insist that any formal resolution to their legal limbo be done "cleanly," without any other priorities or issues attached to the bill.
But that's an unrealistic and foolhardy demand from a population that, in my view, is in no place to be making any demands of the US government. But not all DREAMers share that naive and off-putting approach. Hilario "Eli" Yanez, who was brought to America when he was a baby, appeared on Fox & Friends over the weekend to offer a somewhat counterintuitive take. He acknowledged the need for compromise and even praised President Trump's leadership on the issue:
“At the end of the day, here’s a guy [in President Trump] who wants to provide a pathway to citizenship for myself and, you know, really make a difference in my life. I’m for that. Also, I believe we need to have border security so this doesn’t happen again. And if a wall is necessary to provide another layer for border security to do their job in a safe and responsible manner, then, you know, I think it’s necessary to fund it."
Yanez also expressed support for ending the "diversity visa" lottery and shifting toward a merit-based legal immigration system, effectively endorsing Trump's opening offer to Congressional Democrats. Speaking of whom, Yanez said he was "frustrated" by what he perceives as Democrats' point-scoring exploitation of an issue that affects his life so profoundly -- adding that he considers himself a patriotic American who would never kneel during the Star Spangled Banner, an anthem that gives him "goosebumps:"
Yanez said top Democrats have "no clear message" on immigration policy, other than to "us[e] us as pawns"... "They never should have shut down the government over DACA," he said, mentioning Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) by name. "There is plenty of time on the table to fix this. March 5 is the deadline." Yanez said he gets "goosebumps" when he hears the "Star-Spangled Banner" and said he would never take a knee like some athletes have, and declared a willingness to serve in the armed forces if asked.
Watching the full exchange, it becomes pretty clear that he's a pretty strong Trump supporter -- a relatively rare perspective in the DACA debate. So how will that discussion play out on Capitol Hill? Thus far, there are three major ideas floating around in the Senate, none of which has a chance of becoming law, as written. The Coons/McCain plan isn't nearly serious enough on border enforcement (it calls for a study, an non-immediate wall funding), and is actually worse than the Durbin/Graham roadmap that the White House had previously declared 'dead on arrival.' Then there's this new proposal unveiled by a group of the upper chamber's most conservative members:
Heading into an open-ended immigration debate, some of the Senate’s most conservative members are offering a package heavy with border security and provisions aimed at quickly deporting unauthorized migrants...The package translates a broad framework put forward by President Donald Trump into legislation and will be offered as an amendment during a debate that begins Monday in the Senate, GOP aides said Sunday. It represents a trade: conservatives agree to let the so-called Dreamers stay in the U.S. and even apply for citizenship, but they want a long list of enforcement measures too...The groups casts its bill as a common-sense compromise, but its backers are among the most conservative lawmakers on the issue of immigration, and few observers believe this measure will win support from the 60 senators needed. The Senate has 51 Republicans.
Backers say this is the only package that is backed by Mr. Trump and can pass the House, and say it is better for senators to vote for this than a version that will never become law. The package provides a 10-to-12 year path to citizenship for the approximately 1.8 million young people who qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which Mr. Trump ended. Among the requirements, they must have been in the U.S. continually since at least 2007...It appropriates $25 billion for border security including new barriers—walls or fencing—as well as technology and personnel across immigration agencies. The entire sum would be appropriated as part of this bill, a provision aimed at preventing future Congresses from balking at the funding. But the funds would become available for spending in segments over a decade.
For additional details about how the bill would significantly curb chain migration and eliminate the visa lottery, click through. As the WSJ story suggests, the likelihood of getting to 60 votes on 'Secure and Succeed' (the Cornyn/Grassley/Cotton bill summarized above) is quite slim. Critics of the plan say that it's too unbalanced in its focus on enforcement, and would too drastically reduce legal immigration, while punting some important policy issues to another day, which may never come. As for the House, Speaker Paul Ryan has committed to passing a DACA compromise bill, but only if it aligns suitably with the White House's priorities. As I've been contending, a reasonable compromise would meet somewhere in the middle of the existing bills, and would at least roughly resemble what Trump offered: Immediate amnesty for (up to 1.8 million) eligible DREAMers, a path to citizenship for that class of illegal immigrants, full and gimmick-free funding for the border wall and other security mechanisms -- plus some combination of eliminating or reforming the visa lottery and/or curtailing chain migration.
None of these provisions are out of the mainstream or extreme, as evidenced by both public polling and the fact that every Senate Democrat voted for a version of each component in the 2013 'Gang of Eight' legislation. As they craft a bill that would achieve the bipartisan goal of normalizing legal status for DREAMers, Senators shouldn't bother wasting time on something that would run into a brick wall in the House, or that would trigger a veto threat from the president. The aim should be passage of a viable deal that actually has a chance of being signed into law, given the current political realities. The White House has signaled that the president will not extend the March 5 expiration date of an Obama-era executive program that the administration has determined to be unlawful. While law-abiding DREAMers would be low priority deportees in the event that DACA lapses, their temporary protections will end next month, barring Congressional action. The human cost of failure, due to intransigent 'resistance' or partisan posturing, would be real and significant. For what it's worth, McConnell has quasi-endorsed the conservative plan co-sponsored by his deputy, tweeting this aspirational position as the Senate debate got underway yesterday:
I hope the #Senate can seize this opportunity and deliver real progress towards securing our border, reforming aspects of our immigration policy, and achieving a resolution for individuals who were brought to our country illegally when they were young.— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) February 12, 2018