Trump Should Stick to His Guns on DACA Deal

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 21, 2017

Earlier this week Politico published an article headlined "Senators, White House lay groundwork for Dreamers deal". While that article should be taken with a grain of salt, the president should be encouraged to continue to press on his identified immigration priorities in exchange for any amnesty for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

First: Nothing in Washington ever happens by accident. Statements are never made, articles never appear, and claims are never put forward without some political motive behind them. The aforementioned piece is indicative of this maxim, and likely was largely promoted by Democrats who are seeking to drive a wedge between President Trump and congressional Republicans who are demanding greater immigration enforcement in exchange for a DACA amnesty.

Politico reports:

Top senators and White House officials are laying the groundwork for a major immigration deal in January to resolve the fate of young undocumented immigrants whose legal protections were put in limbo by President Donald Trump.

At a Tuesday afternoon meeting with nearly a dozen senators deeply involved in immigration policy, White House chief of staff John Kelly pledged that the administration will soon present a list of border security and other policy changes it wants as part of a broader deal on so-called Dreamers, according to people who attended the meeting. The plan could come in a matter of days, senators said.

With the tax bill out of the way, the attention of Democratic members and senators will now be focused on the fate of the 690,000 DACA recipients, as well as on future status for the two million aliens who the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates would be eligible for immigration benefits under the Senate version of the DREAM Act of 2017 (S. 1615).

A bipartisan group of seven senators has reportedly been working together to reach a bipartisan deal to resolve the status of the DACA recipients, which likely also would include some sort of status for the remaining DREAMers. That group includes Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Gardner's Centennial State Democratic counterpart, Michael Bennet, as well as Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and James Lankford (R-Okla.). According to Politico (citing Flake), that group has "discussed a legalization plan that would marry the DREAM Act, drafted by Durbin and Graham, with a more conservative proposal for Dreamers written by Tillis and Lankford."

As I reported earlier this month, Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tillis, Lankford, Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and David Perdue (R-Ga.) filed the ''Security, Enforcement, and Compassion United in Reform Efforts Act'' (SECURE Act of 2017), S. 2192, on December 5, 2017. That bill would provide temporary status to DACA recipients, as well as certain other aliens in the United States illegally, and a number of the DREAMers not covered by DACA, in exchange for limited improvements in our current immigration system.

Each of these senators (except Grassley) was at Tuesday's meeting with Kelly. Politico reports that "the senators could not fully flesh out a deal before they knew what Trump was willing to sign."

This is a curious statement, inasmuch as the White House reported in October that the president had sent a letter to House and Senate leaders transmitting his "principles for reforming our Nation's immigration system". That document would logically set forth in full the president's requirements for any amnesty proposal that Congress would craft.

The president explained therein that he had:

[T]asked the relevant executive departments and agencies to conduct a bottom-up review of all immigration policies to determine what legislative reforms are essential for America's economic and national security. Rather than asking what policies are supported by special interests, we asked America's law enforcement professionals to identify reforms that are vital to protect the national interest. In response, they identified dangerous loopholes, outdated laws, and easily exploited vulnerabilities in our immigration system — current policies that are harming our country and our communities.

The principles and policies attached to that letter were the fruit of that effort. Included were improvements to border security, steps to close loopholes related to unaccompanied alien children (UACs), asylum reforms, proposals to "to reduce the immigration court backlog and ensure swift return of illegal border crossers", expansions to the grounds of inadmissibility and deportability, amendments to grant programs to address the issue of sanctuary cities, enhancements to improve "State and local cooperation with Federal immigration law enforcement in order to ensure national security and public safety", improvements that would strengthen "the removal processes for those who overstay or otherwise violate the terms of their visas" and address "future visa overstays", additional resources and detention authority for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), fixes to the current employment verification system (including mandatory E-Verify), measures to "deny gang members and those associated with criminal gangs from receiving immigration benefits", an end to chain migration and the visa lottery, and a limit on the number of refugees admitted annually.

It should be understood that the president will not have many legislative opportunities to implement these principles and policies. Given the fact that Democrats in Congress, for political reasons, uniformly opposed tax cuts for middle-class taxpayers, it is unlikely that they would accede to the immigration improvements proposed by the president in his October letter without receiving some tangible benefit in response. A bill providing more permanent status for DACA recipients (and potentially nationals of El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras currently covered by Temporary Protected Status) will, almost definitely, provide the only opportunity for the president in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections to obtain the immigration fixes that he is publicly stated are "vital to protect the national interest."

One point bears repeating with respect to the president's October letter: this is not a Stephen Miller (or Steve King) wish list; rather, as the president has stated, these are reforms identified by "America's law enforcement professionals". While Congress has the final say on any legislative changes, if the president were to bargain away such reforms, it would be akin to negotiating over the national security of the United States.

In preparing a $100 check for the Alabama senatorial campaign of Democrat Doug Jones, Sen. Flake wrote on the subject line "Country over Party". With respect to the reforms the president has identified, Flake doesn't need to choose, but Democrats should follow his sentiment.