Immigration policy conservatives are giving President Trump’s immigration-reform blueprint a thumbs down after the plan moves to the left on two key issues, leaving activists fearing a more timid final bill and no end in sight to the dangerous flood of illegal immigration into the United States.
The Trump framework focuses on four key areas: spending $25 billion on border security including additional portions of a wall, extending legal status and a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who either enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or are eligible for it, limiting chain migration to only spouses and minor children, and ending the visa lottery.
The Center for Immigration Studies, or CIS, sees two major problems with Trump’s more moderate approach: a sudden embrace of amnesty and a refusal to tighten the screws enough on chain migration.
CIS Research Fellow Andrew Arthur says Trump’s offer of a pathway to citizenship goes far beyond the DACA recipients and will ultimately include way more than 1.8 million.
“We’ve seen similar proposals in the past. There have been amnesties floated, amnesties passed. Inevitably, the number of people who end up being granted is higher than the number that was anticipated.
“Inevitably there is going to be a certain level of fraud in this process. Logically, you’re going to have to identify that you’ve been in the United States since a [certain time] and the documents you can offer are generally fairly vague,” said Arthur.
And by including illegal immigrants who are not part of the DACA program, Arthur says Trump is inviting a bureaucratic nightmare for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
“If it was simply the 690,000 DACA people, USCIS already knows who those people are and can do a one to one match. When you’re talking about an additional 1.1 million individuals, that’s going to require brand new files being opened, documents being reviewed, and the fact is USCIS just doesn’t have the bandwidth to do that work right now,” said Arthur.
Arthur is generally pleased with the movement to limit chain migration, keeping it to spouses and minor children, as opposed to current law which allows adult children, siblings, and parents. However, he says Trump is making a big mistake in how he wants to implement the plan.
“The problem is that the framework will also make these changes prospectively, not retroactively. It’s going to process through the four million people who are currently in that backlog, people who have had petitions filed on their behalf and who are awaiting a number in order to apply and go through the process of being vetted,” said Arthur.
“That’s a pretty big concern of ours because of course you’re going to end up potentially giving an additional four million people status,” said Arthur.
But while some conservatives are wary of Trump’s plan, most Democrats are greeting Trump’s policy retreat with full condemnation.
“Dreamers should not be held hostage to President Trump’s crusade to tear families apart and waste billions of American tax dollars on an ineffective wall,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who says Trump is reaching for a hardline immigration agenda on the backs of young people.
Arthur is not surprised.
“That’s just plain sanctimony. I could have anticipated what Dick Durbin was going to say and I could have written it myself,” he said.
Democrats and liberal immigration activists accuse Trump of clamping down on legal immigration because of his efforts to limit chain migration and kill the visa lottery. But Arthur says there’s a very good reason for imposing limitations.
“The proposals set forth in the framework are necessary changes that we need in order to ameliorate the problems that got us here to begin with. The fact is there are huge loopholes in the law that allow unaccompanied alien children to show up at a port of entry. They don’t even have to enter illegally.
“Once in the United States, United States government officials complete the work of the smugglers that brought them to the border to begin with and reunite them with family members or friends or other individuals in the United States who will take care of them. This is a huge problem and it’s a huge magnet that draws minors to the United States,” said Arthur.
Why is that a huge problem? Arthur says that magnet leaves kids vulnerable to unspeakable horrors at the hands of their smugglers so long as the parents of those kids think their children are virtually guaranteed a chance to live in the U.S.
“The people who engage in these activities don’t simply smuggle people for money. The fact is they rob, they rape, they hold people ransom for money. They do that with children as well. Turning off that magnet is an absolutely crucial element of any plan that’s going to grant any kind of amnesty to any population of DACA people,” said Arthur.
Arthur sees positives and negatives for the political path forward on immigration. He’s deeply concerned that Trump’s willingness to compromise at the outset will ultimately lead to a far worse bill.
“Inevitably, bills like this are a race to the bottom. If you say (you’re going to allow) 1.8 million people who got here on X date, why not people who got here on X date plus one year, or (if we accept) people who came here below the age of 16, why not people who got here below the age of 18,” said Arthur.
At the same time, he says some House conservatives are not happy with Trump’s plan and may be able to improve it.
“There are some individuals in the House who are vociferously opposed to any plan like this. You can anticipate that those individuals will attempt to pare back the amazingly generous proposal that the president has made,” said Arthur.
While he has serious problems with Trump’s concessions, Arthur says Democrats are foolish to demonize a major outreach on Trump’s part.
“Quite frankly, if the Democrats don’t take this deal and end up scuttling it, this is going to be on their heads,” said Arthur.