Is Biden Reconsidering Mass Amnesty Legislation?

The Kremlinology of the missing fact sheet and the clue in the Wall Street Journal

By Andrew R. Arthur on January 28, 2021

Shortly after the inauguration on January 20, the new White House website published a fact sheet captioned "President Biden Sends Immigration Bill to Congress as Part of His Commitment to Modernize our Immigration System". It called for an amnesty, increases in legal immigration, and an expansion of employment authorization, but no enforcement reforms. Subsequent developments raise the question of whether Biden wants immigration legislation, or just an issue. Perhaps he has changed his mind.

Why do I say that?

If you click on the link above, it will not take you to the White House website, but to a Google cache of that page as it appeared at 12:07 PM EST, or seven minutes after the new administration took effect. I cannot find it on the White House website (although "Immigration" appears on the site's "Immediate Priorities" page, only in a much more truncated manner).

The disappearance of a major policy document could occur for any number of reasons, but one of them is that it was pulled down, deliberately.

As for the part about Biden sending Congress an immigration bill, subsequent reporting suggests that may not be exact, either. On January 26, Politico, in an article captioned "Biden open to breaking his immigration bill into pieces", made the following statement:

Biden's proposal, introduced hours after he was sworn in, includes a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, expanded refugee resettlement and more technology deployed to the border. Though he is leaving Congress to hash out the mechanics of passing his immigration plan, he's also moving ahead with a slate of executive actions on Friday. [Emphasis added.]

For those not familiar with the publication, Politico is kind of a "tip sheet" for Washington insiders. It features leaks (approved and otherwise) from those on the inside in the White House and on Capitol Hill, along with other news from the federal government.

"Mechanics" in the highlighted portion can mean any number of things, from the methods that leadership plans on using to bring the bill to fruition to the actual language of the bill itself.

I note, though, that I have not actually seen any bill language implementing the plans in the missing fact sheet. Nor can I find the "U.S. Citizenship Act" (the purported name of the legislation) on the congressional website, or any other significant immigration legislation there for that matter.

I may be missing something, but this suggests either that bill language was sent by the White House and is still being reviewed by majority Democrats, or that a series of proposals were sent by the White House to be massaged into congressional language. Or maybe Democrats from the White House to Congress are regrouping.

Which brings me to a January 26 column by opinion writer William A. Galston in the Wall Street Journal, captioned "Does Biden Want a Bill or an Issue? He'll accomplish more if he makes a realistic to-do list rather than an ambitious wish list".

As I have previously alluded to, Galston, a staunch liberal, often acts as a sounding board for what insider Democrats are thinking, or he seems to, at least.

Here's what he had to say on Biden's immigration legislation:

Comprehensive immigration reform threatens to become the cap-and-trade of the Biden administration. Although the president's proposal has broad appeal within his party, Republican support is less certain. With the abolition of the filibuster apparently off the table, a comprehensive proposal lacks a viable path to passage.

Mr. Biden could pursue a strategy that has been ignored for many years by presidents of both parties: Test the waters with congressional leaders of both parties and then work with bipartisan groups in the House and Senate to determine the limits of the possible. On immigration, this approach could yield quick agreement on a bill to protect from deportation young adult "Dreamers" brought to the country as children, guarantee their legal status, and define a path to citizenship.

"Cap-and-trade" in the first paragraph refers to an Obama legislative initiative on climate regulation that consumed a lot of political capital and went nowhere in 2010, before Democrats lost control of the House in the off-year election. It is not an analogy to successful legislation.

Candidate Biden had a rather specific immigration agenda during the 2020 campaign, but it was largely ignored in the press and seemingly by voters, for whom "immigration" per se was not as big an issue as the economy, healthcare, and Covid-19. Biden's plan was there for all to see, but few people (aside from me and a few others) commented on it much.

Respectfully, Biden was not elected based on a pledge to shut down immigration enforcement or to enact an amnesty for almost every alien illegally present in the United States. He was elected because he was not Donald Trump (the tagline of his campaign was "Battle for the Soul of the Nation", seemingly admitting as much).

But Biden would not be the first candidate to mistake election for mandate. In this case, however, it has led to his first setback, as a federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order against DHS's plan to halt almost all removals from the United States for 100 days (which I analyzed on January 27) in contravention of a 90-day removal mandate in the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Biden has long had a reputation as a "dealmaker", so a "You'll get nothing, and like it" attitude (as my colleague Mark Krikorian recently put it) toward those who recognize the need for enforcement reforms when it comes to immigration legislation is contrary to his reputation, if not his actual nature. Which makes the now-missing White House fact sheet all the more intriguing.

Perhaps its apparent trip down the memory hole, and the absence of actual immigration legislation that enshrines the proposals set forth in that fact sheet, reflects a pause in the president's consideration of the issue.

Banging on Republicans in Congress who would block amnesty legislation (to whom Galston references above) as "do-nothings" could create a wedge issue for Democratic candidates in the 2022 off-year elections for the House and Senate. Maybe not, though, because again, while immigration underpins many of the issues most important to voters, there has not been a big groundswell for such an amnesty.

Keep in mind that immigration enforcement, though, was a key issue to Donald Trump's administration (although one on which he did not campaign significantly in the last election, either), and that Trump ended up receiving 74,222,593 votes — more than any candidate in history other than Biden — even though he lost.

Sometimes, a disappointed voter becomes a discouraged one. Occasionally, however, they become even more committed. And victory can often breed complacency. No one really knows what the next election will bring.

Given all this, perhaps the White House realized that it acted hastily in releasing its now-missing fact sheet, and that a serious immigration proposal, more limited in scope and with needed reforms (such as statutory language authorizing immigration detainers and limitations on sanctuary jurisdictions, to name two) that could draw in congressional Republicans is under consideration.

Or perhaps not. Figuring out what is happening behind closed doors in Washington is often akin to "Kremlinology", best defined as "the formalized study of hard facts in a closed society, observing appointments, organization, decrees, and formal speeches". There are similar signposts in D.C. You just have to know where to look, and try to get the analysis right.