The President Yields on Immigration

Too much, but not enough for congressional Democrats

By Andrew R. Arthur on January 23, 2019

In an address from the White House on January 19, 2019, President Trump offered congressional Democrats significant concessions in order to secure funding for border security. Those included concessions well beyond anything I would've counseled, but it still was not enough. At this point, I'm beginning to wonder whether anything short of capitulation would be.

That plan included both money for immigration enforcement and status for aliens present in the United States with only the most tenuous of rights to remain.

First, the immigration enforcement. As the president stated:

Our plan includes the following: $800 million in urgent humanitarian assistance; $805 million for drug detection technology to help secure our ports of entry; an additional 2,750 border agents and law enforcement professionals; 75 new immigration judge teams to reduce the court backlog of, believe it or not, almost 900,000 cases.


To physically secure our border, the plan includes $5.7 billion for a strategic deployment of physical barriers, or a wall. This is not a 2,000-mile concrete structure from sea to sea. These are steel barriers in high-priority locations. Much of the border is already protected by natural barriers such as mountains and water. We already have many miles of barrier, including 115 miles that we are currently building or under contract. It will be done quickly. Our request will add another 230 miles this year in the areas our border agents most urgently need. It will have an unbelievable impact.

None of the president's proposals are new in this regard — I have written about them so many times that my editor is probably getting tired of reading about it. [Art, I thought we talked about this. - Ed.]

In exchange, the president has made extremely generous concessions, well beyond what would appear to be sufficient to obtain funding that is absolutely crucial to the national security. In making this statement, I will concede the point that Trump is the wall and the wall is Trump, and that if you oppose Trump, you oppose the wall as a matter of faith and politics.

As a staffer, however, I assisted in the negotiation of several bills that had much more contentious provisions in them, and that contained provisions that were much more difficult for my colleagues on the other side of the dais to swallow. Not that the leader of the party, President George W. Bush was much more popular, or highly thought of, by the opposition than the current president.

Memory is a funny thing, and many who mist up now at the image of former President Bush offering candies to Michelle Obama were likely the same people who added "Chimp Bushitler" to Urban Dictionary, who sported "Bush Lied, People Died" bumper stickers (still available for $4.65 at Cafe Press), or who chuckled knowingly "Let's not elect him next time, either." The 22nd Amendment makes strange bedfellows.

Consider the following, which appeared in Slate in May 2004:

George W. Bush has governed, for the most part, the way any airhead might, undermining the fiscal condition of the nation, squandering the goodwill of the world after Sept. 11, and allowing huge problems (global warming, entitlement spending, AIDS) to metastasize toward catastrophe through a combination of ideology, incomprehension, and indifference. If Bush isn't exactly the moron he sounds, his synaptic misfirings offer a plausible proxy for the idiocy of his presidency.

Not to belabor the point, but during his term, a significant portion of the electorate viewed George Bush as an imbecile who was only a candidate because of his family money and connections, a snake-oil salesman foisted on the American people in an illegitimate election, a crypto-Nazi, a man who acted with impure motives to line his pockets and the pockets of his friends, and a laughingstock to the rest of the world. Sound familiar?

I'll return in a moment to what I think has changed in the interim. Here's a hint, however: It's on the eastern end of Pennsylvania Ave.

Balanced out against these border security requests are an overly generous response appealing directly to the Democrats' wish list: three years of legislated legal status for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a three-year extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 300,000 foreign nationals, and a new iteration of the Central American Minors (CAM) program. And that is just a down payment. The president explained:

Our proposal is not intended to solve all of our immigration challenges. This plan solves the immediate crisis — and it is a horrible crisis. It is a humanitarian crisis like we rarely see in our country. And it provides humanitarian relief, delivers real border security, and immediately reopens our federal government.

If we are successful in this effort, then we can start the [broader] project of remaking our immigration system for the 21st century. Once the government is open and we have made a down payment on border security, and immigration reform starts to happen, I plan to convene weekly bipartisan meetings at the White House so we can do a finished product, a great product — a product that we can all be proud of, having to do with that elusive immigration problem.

I have laid out my views on DACA and TPS previously. The Cliffs Notes version is that the former was an illegitimate power grab by the Obama administration that was contrary to the expressed will of Congress, while the latter was a perversion that took advantage of the humanitarian heart of the American people by extending a "temporary" status into perpetuity.

As for CAM, here is how U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) described the program:

The Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee program provides certain qualified children who are nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, as well as certain family members of those children, an opportunity to apply for refugee status and possible resettlement in the United States.

Only certain parents who are lawfully present in the United States are eligible to be qualifying parents and request access to the program for their children. Each qualified child must be unmarried, under the age of 21, and a national of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. In certain cases, the in-country parent of the qualifying child may also qualify for access if the in-country parent is the legal spouse of the qualifying parent in the United States, as may the unmarried children of a qualifying child if also under the age of 21.

Here is how my colleague, Dan Cadman, described the program, by contrast:

CAM, a cooperative venture between DHS and the Department of State (DOS), was another of those questionable programs initiated under the Obama administration without much in the way of a statutory basis.

Ostensibly it was to permit minors in the Central American "northern triangle" countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) to apply for refuge safely in their country, without needing to make the dangerous trek north, through Mexico, and then into the United States illegally. This, of course, was a fig leaf designed to cover up the embarrassment of the arriving tidal wave of humans, including not just minors but whole families, who surged across our borders and into the Rio Grande Valley from 2014 onward. The surge was public, shameful, and irrefutable evidence that the administration was lying about its "tough" stance on controlling the border and promptly deporting illegal border-crossers.

The Obama administration sent the vice president and other high-level officials to the three countries, and then scrambled to set up something that would take the flow of migrants out of the public eye. Even the name of the program was eyewash because it applied to adults as well as minors.

What's more, as might have been expected, very few of the applicants in the program proved to be entitled to refugee status based on the grounds of persecution outlined in the law. Instead, DHS continued to abuse, abroad, the same immigration parole that it was using domestically under the DACA program as a mechanism to permit a steady flow of Central Americans into the United States without being obliged to qualify for refugee programs as actually required by statute — and very few of those applying did in fact qualify. Despite that fact, significant numbers were paroled into the United States under vaguely defined "family unification" criteria, even though in many instances the family in the United States that Central American aliens were being granted paroles in order to join were themselves in the United States illegally, but present "under color of law", meaning that they had been able to avail themselves of other forms of quasi-amnesty, such as the (also abused) Temporary Protected Status program and the like.

From its inception, CAM was, in essence, a DHS/DOS-sanctioned, but legally spurious, pipeline of migrants into the United States in ways never contemplated by law, designed by open-borders advocates within the Obama White House to create out of whole cloth an avenue of entry for aliens who were not eligible under any existing provision of U.S. immigration law.

I could not have agreed more.

The president's proposal provides breathing room to congressional Democrats to squeeze even more concessions of the White House with respect to DACA, TPS, and CAM. Nonetheless, they refuse to accept "yes" for an answer. As CNN reported:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not even wait for the speech to reject the proposal. She said it was a "a compilation of several previously rejected initiatives, each of which is unacceptable and in total, do not represent a good faith effort to restore certainty to people's lives."

"It is unlikely that any one of these provisions alone would pass the House, and taken together, they are a non-starter. For one thing, this proposal does not include the permanent solution for the Dreamers and TPS recipients that our country needs and supports," Pelosi said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the President's offer was not really an offer at all.

"It was the President who singled-handedly took away DACA and TPS protections in the first place — offering some protections back in exchange for the wall is not a compromise but more hostage taking," Schumer said in a statement.

I am loath to contradict the senior senator from New York, but respectfully, the tenuous status of DACA and TPS recipients is not the fault of the current occupant of the White House, but of his predecessor and predecessors, respectively. As for the speaker, uncertainty entered the lives of DACA recipients when they entered the United States illegally, either on their own or with their parents. And uncertainty is the nature of any "temporary" immigration status afforded as a matter of grace to those who lack one, by definition. If you really want uncertainty, keep in mind that the status of most in both of these groups is only kept on life support by the questionable determinations of activist judges in trial-level and intermediate appeals courts.

Had I been asked my opinion by the White House (I was not, for the record), there is no way that I would have agreed to continue one illegal program and the further political debasement of another. And CAM should not be on anyone's agenda: It didn't work then, and it won't work now.

So why didn't the Democrats at least state that they were mulling over the president's offer? Politics. Democratic leadership has painted itself into a corner in its opposition to the president's demand for border barriers. Opposition to a "wall", no matter what that "wall" looks like, has become a litmus test for them, by which I mean the way that many backbenchers in the Democratic Caucus view the resolve and their leaders.

Want proof? Take a look at this opinion piece by Kurt Bardella in NBC News praising Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's response to President Trump's January 8, 2019, national address laying out his case for border security. It ends: "But after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's signature performance this week, it may be time for the members of Congress who still don't 'get it' to do America a favor and just retire already."

Pelosi and Schumer have already been criticized for being old and out of touch with the modern Democratic Party. Consider this take from Splinter the day after the mid-term elections:

In her "victory" speech last night at the DCCC — an organization so out of touch and self-indulgent that they were reportedly blasting "Fight Song" before the returns came in last night — Pelosi had the gall to call the blue trickle a "new day in America," a phrase which, on Wednesday morning, was true only in the most literal sense. Things did not improve from there: Pelosi vowed to "strive for bipartisanship" and, even worse, hyped something called the "bipartisan marketplace of ideas." This is the next House Speaker's idea of a victory speech; this is the elected official charged with leading the Democrats into battle once more. Trump and the Republicans will continue to stoke white America's fear of a black and brown country until they stop drawing breath, but at least we'll be armed to hilt with uh, the "bipartisan marketplace." We could all find ourselves in one internment camp or another and there will be Nancy Pelosi, still asking for civility and compromise in this moment of adversity. It's nice to have one singular thing to count on from her, and it's obvious that she's not the person who should be in charge going forward.

All of this comes before this terrible duo takes the stage again to show us more of the same. They have nothing new to offer. Pelosi in particular wants Republicans to know she's open to horse trading — that's how things work in Washington! — before she's even officially in power, but we can also expect the added flavor of any move Pelosi does makes dying in the Republicans' Senate.

Setting aside their individual political ills, which we've documented at length on this site and are so numerous that they'd require posts all their own, Pelosi and Schumer have failed time and time again to resist the Trump administration's agenda in meaningful ways. They were left sputtering over the president's recent gesture at doing away with birthright citizenship, they've let Trump judges slide on through, they bumbled about, issuing fiery statements while immigrant children were being kept in cages, until the administration finally tweaked the policy so people would stop being mad and forget all about it.

This morning, their latest failures are laid bare for all to see: They are the top-ranking members of their party and are responsible for its (increasingly rare) wins and monumental losses. Both are hailed as Politics Geniuses with decades of experience pulling the levers of power behind the scenes and using their high profiles to be tireless fundraisers for the Democrats. But what good is all that when they can't satisfy their most basic mandates? It's depressingly stunted, futile, and useless, just like both of them. Get rid of them.

Put more curtly: "New party, who dis?"

John Boehner and Paul Ryan faced pushback from both wings of their party in many of their efforts. That is to be expected in a party that must carefully balance members with four, often divergent interests: national security, fiscal conservatism, social conservatism, and libertarianism. Neither had the horse-trading skills of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (which I had the pleasure of witnessing up-close), which is likely why neither had his success.

The Democrats, however, have traditionally been different, and more united, around certain governing principles (here is their 2000 party platform). That made it easier for them to reach compromises: Moving the ball five yards down the field still helped them achieve their goals incrementally. Take the immigration plank: "Reform the INS; reduce immigrant backlog. Protect immigrants from exploitation by employers." That gives you a fair amount of wiggle room. Now there are Democrats who say the United States should "Abolish ICE" and open its borders to everyone and anyone. Not much room for compromise there, especially if you are combating charges that you are "stunted, futile, and useless".

That said, just because you've painted yourself into a corner does not mean that your efforts will end in failure. Sometimes, you can wait it out until the paint dries on the rest of the floor, and finish the spot where you were standing. That seems to be Democratic leadership's strategy.

As I stated in a January 4, 2019, post:

The president is running his own "Operation Hold the Line" in the ongoing budget talks. If the president can hold the line on his demands for a down payment on border barriers, there is likely to be more consensus between the White House and the House of Representatives on immigration legislation, and in particular immigration funding, in the 116th Congress.

If he shows weakness in this effort, however, Democrats in the House will cut immigration funding to starve immigration enforcement.

The president has preemptively started the process described in the first paragraph in his January 19, 2019, address. The Democrats have refused to even consider his entreaties. Where this ends is anyone's guess.

Topics: Politics