On the heels of tax reform, Republicans in Congress may soon hand the White House a second major legislative victory, boosting the party’s prospects in November
After months of loud partisan public disagreement – and fierce haggling and horse-trading in private – Democrats and Republicans are finally moving — slowly but surely — toward passage of some version of the immigration bill known as the “DREAM Act.”
The precise terms of the new legislation are still being worked out, but neither liberal Democratic supporters of a separate legalization program for undocumented immigrant minors — nor far right opponents of anything resembling an “amnesty” for “law-breakers” — are likely to be completely satisfied with the outcome.
For one thing, the number of DREAMERs that will qualify for legal status will likely fall far short of the two million or more granted a temporary stay of deportation by President Obama in an executive order issued in 2012. Those that do qualify, probably about a million all told, will face a number of high hurdles. They won’t be eligible to become citizens right away. And if they lose their job, end up on public assistance or fall behind on their taxes, they can still be sent home.
To secure bipartisan support, the legislation also includes a host of new provisions to toughen immigrant enforcement. For example, Trump and the GOP want to extend the current fencing along the border between the US and Mexico. Insiders say that the White House won’t be demanding the whole enchilada – “The Wall” — just now. But expect Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric to be loud enough to satisfy the rabid and loyal GOP base that got him elected – and that continues to keep his approval rating in the high 30-percent range.
The new immigration legislation is just the latest sign of how much the policy debate over immigration has shifted away from the Democrats in recent months.
In the face of a relentlessly hostile mainstream news media, Trump won an important victory three weeks ago when the US Supreme Court upheld the latest iteration of his “Muslim travel ban.” The measure no longer targets “Muslim” countries by name, though all of the countries designated are majority Muslim. Essentially, Trump repackaged the idea to satisfy his most vociferous critics — and to square the measure with anti-discrimination laws.
Trump has also succeeded in slashing annual refugee admissions in half, from 100,000 to just 45,000, a historic low. And he is quickly moving to eliminate the “diversity” visa lottery that allows 50,000 people from historically neglected areas of the world to obtain a green card.
The bipartisan Jordan Commission called for the diversity visa lottery’s elimination as far back in 1995, but to date Democrats have beat back Republican efforts to end the program, insisting, without much evidence, that it boosts America’s standing overseas. Republicans have attacked the program as a political “fig-leaf” that adds no value to the US economy.
Although Democrats are loathe to admit it, Trump seems to be moving the Congress — and the country — toward some kind of historic compromise on immigration reform, one that steers a path between the mass deportation demanded by far right Republicans and the sweeping amnesty promoted by liberal Democrats.
Some undocumented immigrants will be allowed to stay, under restricted terms, possibly without a path to citizenship. At the same time, stepped up immigration enforcement will tighten the noose and expedite the deportation of many of those here illegally. Perhaps half of the undocumented population currently in the US will be sent home or convinced to “self-deport.” (Immigration arrests are up 40% over last year)
There’s a real irony in Trump’s decision to let most of the DREAMers stay. For years even President Obama maintained that congressional legislation was the only way to ensure that the DREAMers would be granted relief. When pressed by immigration activists to issue an executive order in 2010-2011, he insisted that constitutionally his hands were tied.