The quest for an immigration deal
The Senate’s immigration debate got off to an unpromising start this week, with both sides laying the groundwork for blaming each other if they fail to reach a compromise. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed to hold a rare open-floor debate after Democrats forced a brief government shutdown last month over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Back in September, President Trump canceled DACA, an Obama-era scheme protecting from deportation 700,000 so-called Dreamers brought to the U.S. illegally as children; he gave Congress until March 5 to negotiate a permanent solution. But having initially promised he’d sign any bipartisan compromise bill lawmakers sent him, Trump this week warned he would veto legislation that didn’t include the “four pillars” of his own immigration proposal: giving Dreamers a path to citizenship; scrapping the diversity visa lottery that brings in 50,000 people a year; $25 billion for a southern border wall; and a sharp reduction in legal immigration for new citizens’ family members, which opponents call “chain migration.” (See Briefing.)
Democrats, who strongly oppose curbing legal immigration, rejected the White House plan. But as The Week went to press, it was unclear whether any of the other, bipartisan proposals—which traded protections for Dreamers for limited funding for border security and the wall—would secure the 60 Senate votes required for passage or have any chance of passing in the more conservative House. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the only hope was for a compromise that would provide wall funding but not affect legal immigration. “The consensus is to have big border security and big DACA,” Graham said. “It would be a two-pillar bill.”
What the editorials said
“The stakes in the DACA debate could not be higher,” said The Washington Post. If the program expires, 1,000 law-abiding Dreamers will lose their protections and work permits every single day. “That’s 7,000 each week, 30,000 each month, more than 350,000 in the first year.” Trump’s so-called compromise, with its “slew of hard-line restrictionist measures,” was never going to receive the necessary 60 votes in the Senate. But even if senators do forge a bipartisan deal, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said last week he’d only bring a bill to the floor if it had the backing of the president. That doesn’t bode well.
Will Congress ever stop this “perpetual punting game” on immigration? said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Democrats gave away their leverage by agreeing to last week’s budget deal and removing the threat of a government shutdown. Republicans no longer have any reason to “yield their hard line.” In fact, GOP lawmakers face pressure not to give Dreamers a path to citizenship, because it would allow potential primary opponents to label them “pro-amnesty.”
What the columnists said
The president is pursuing a “potentially shrewd strategy,” said Jeremy Carl in NationalReview.com. Trump offered Democrats a “generous” deal—his proposal would legalize all 1.8 million eligible DACA recipients, not just the 700,000 who signed up—knowing full well they’d reject it because of the curbs on legal immigration. Trump is “exposing” the Democrats’ as extremists who’d rather let Dreamers go unprotected than accept any limits on immigration.
But Democrats are also “playing the long game,” said Josh Voorhees in Slate.com. Their “moral calculus” is that “Dreamers will be far better off if Democrats take the House and Senate this fall,” and that forcing an unpopular government shutdown “would have made that less likely.” If there is now no deal, keeping “the Dreamer question unanswered” will give the party a big campaign issue in November. Immigration advocates will be furious, but they won’t “exactly have another place to turn.”
Everyone has “agreed to pretend” that Trump cares about the Dreamers, said Ezra Klein in Vox.com. Republicans adopt this “posture” because polls show that DACA recipients are highly sympathetic figures, Democrats because “it helps pressure [the president] into a deal.” The reality, of course, is that Trump created this crisis himself by killing DACA, and has since sabotaged every effort to fix it—all to get a hard-line immigration policy and his wall. But if there’s no deal, and the Trump administration starts deporting Dreamers, the ruse will be up—and the president will bear the political cost.
Illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos: courtesy of Colbie Holderness, Newscom, AP
On the cover: President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan