While Republicans and Democrats work to produce legislation to grant legal status and a pathway to citizenship for people brought to the United States illegally when they were children, one Republican congressman says Congress should refuse to enshrine that policy into law to avoid a flood of new illegal immigrants looking to benefit from the same policy.
In September, President Trump announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, would end in March 2018, but also suggested that the people impacted by his decision ought not to worry. Barack Obama enacted DACA in 2012 and the program survived despite fierce criticism that such a change in the law should instead come through an act of Congress.
With the DACA expiration now just weeks away, House and Senate leaders in both parties appear united in wanting to pass legislation to protect those impacted by the policy. A “Gang of Six” in the Senate is working on the bill, although President Trump has rejected their first overture.
Many conservatives are urging GOP leaders and President Trump to use DACA as leverage to squeeze concessions out of Democrats, including a reduction in chain migration, and end to the visa lottery, expanded E-Verify at businesses and greater border security including at least portions of a new border wall.
However, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., rejects the premise of the discussions. He doesn’t want DACA as part of federal law.
“If we legalize the status of 850,000 young people who are here illegally, we can expect tens of millions of young people throughout the world to notice that.
“If they would like the government benefits of health care and education that comes from legally being in the United States, there is no reason for me to believe this won’t obliterate our chances of getting control of our border,” said Rohrabacher.
The congressman says once Congress gives the green light to putting “dreamers” on the path to citizenship, it may be impossible to restore integrity to the nation’s immigration system.
“We’re talking about millions of people here who will be brought into this country and there’s no way we can build a wall high enough or dig a ditch deep enough to stop it after we’ve given them a treasure house of medical care and education. We are going to undo any good we can possibly do otherwise,” said Rohrabacher.
Rohrabacher says even if the legislation agrees to significant limits on chain migration, providing legal status to people who came to the U.S. illegally will still be crippling.
“We cannot secure our borders as long as we’re giving this ultimate prize to people who have made it across the border illegally. When we have young people like this, we’re notifying parents all over the world, ‘Whatever you do, get your kid to the United States,'” said Rohrabacher.
While Rohrabacher admits many young people are suffering terribly in our own hemisphere and around the world, the resources of the United States only go so far.
“There are people who are living in horrible situations overseas. Young people. We cannot afford to take care of every one of them while we don’t even have the money now to take care of our own people, meaning the veterans and the seniors and, yes, the young people who need educational training here,” said Rohrabacher.
At an on-camera negotiation this week, President Trump was open to a two-step approach to immigration offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who wanted a “clean” DACA bill now with a commitment to address comprehensive immigration reform later. Trump later explained he considers a border wall part of a clean DACA bill.
Rohrabacher has no interest in that.
“The only thing I would have a stomach for if DACA comes first is if it’s defeated,” said Rohrabacher.
With Republicans, Democrats and the president seemingly agreeing to the general path forward to enshrine DACA, Rohrabacher says other critical voices are being ignored yet again.
“What hasn’t changed is the American people. They keep getting left out of this as if their point of view doesn’t count. Up until now, nobody’s made the case to the American people of the magnitude of what we’re talking about,” said Rohrabacher.
He says people who casually follow the debate think it’s about helping a few impoverished kids from Latin America or Asia when the facts are very different.
“They don’t know that they’re talking about the large number of people that we’re talking about and the impact that it will have later on as people all over the world pay attention to the fact that if young people can get to the United States, we don’t have the heart to send them back. Then what we’ll see is a flood of millions more people coming in,” said Rohrabacher.
Rohrabacher has been part of efforts to beat back immigration legislation in 2006, 2007 and 2013. He says public pressure clearly makes a difference.
“The only thing that’s saved us from a massive onslaught of people crossing our borders from all over the world, many of whom probably would have been detrimental to us in terms of terrorism, it’s been alerting the American people that’s given us the leverage,” said Rohrabacher.
President Trump campaigned vigorously on enforcing immigration laws and beefing up border security, most famously with a wall. However, Rohrabacher says the performance of Republicans in the televised meeting suggests most GOP members have no intention of pursuing Trump’s campaign vision.
“I don’t think there was anybody in that meeting that was someone who was, on principle and in practicality, opposed to legalization of illegal immigrants,” said Rohrabacher, who admits no lawmakers would admit to such a label.
However, the congressman says actions speak louder than words and the emerging talks suggest a major disconnect between lawmakers and the voters who sent them there. He says it could have a major impact come Election Day 2018.
“We could turn off our base the same way moderate Republicans have turned off their base and lost elections for the last 20 years,” said Rohrabacher.
Interestingly, despite his vehement opposition to congressional legislation on DACA, Rohrabacher is not guaranteeing a “no” vote.
“I’m not telling you that if I lose in my argument that I will vote against any bill that has DACA in it or any other type of immigration reforms or changes they plan to make,” said Rohrabacher.
“I’ll pay attention to the compromise to see if it’s possible that I could vote for it. I’ll keep an open mind, but I think it will do us great harm, so I would prefer not to have a legalization, especially of 850,000 young people,” said Rohrabacher.