A March 5 deadline to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program may send 800,000 illegal immigrants packing, to the great consternation of Democrats and more than a few Republicans. But it’s also possible these so-called Dreamers may stay—if they can meet certain conditions the Trump Administration is hashing out with Congress. Whatever happens, President Trump wins. Here’s why.
Last year saw a sharp rise in immigration law enforcement and significant declines illegal border crossings, even in the absence of immigration reform, “comprehensive” or otherwise. Illegal crossings over the southern border plummeted by more than 70 percent, while deportations increased by 34 percent. In addition, thanks to the president’s travel ban, refugee admissions all but disappeared after an 87 percent drop.
President Trump did make two important decisions, however. First, he rescinded the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program. Second, he delayed rescinding DACA, giving Congress six months to legislate a fix. And here we are.
Securing America’s Future Act
Democrats want nothing more than to save these 800,000 illegal immigrants (very few of whom are actually children) from deportation. The president and a solid bloc of his party in Congress could see letting them stay in exchange for much tougher border enforcement, including The Wall. The White House on January 9 in effect opened the first round of negotiations to the public; the press filmed the hour-long meeting and anyone could tune in to watch the two parties air their major concerns.
That meeting bore fruit with pleasantly surprising immediacy. The Securing America’s Future Act (SAFA), introduced January 10 by U.S. Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Mike McCaul (R-Texas), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), provides temporary protections for DACA recipients in exchange for a rather extensive list of immigration restrictions.
The bill would give DACA recipients three-year renewable work visas but would bar them from future citizenship. In exchange, the bill would implement President Trump’s three major goals for immigration reform: $30 billion for The Wall, elimination of chain migration (which would cut legal immigration by some 260,000 a year), and ending the visa lottery system.
In addition, SAFA would make the national E-Verify system mandatory for employers. The idea is to keep illegal immigrants out of U.S. businesses and raise average wages of American workers.
The bill also includes the provisions of Kate’s Law intended to crack down on “sanctuary cities” by withholding federal funds, while also leveling stricter penalties on previously deported illegals who attempt to return. Lastly, the bill would also end the practice of “catch and release.” The Daily Caller described the bill as “an immigration hawk’s wish list,” and it has Trump’s endorsement along with broad support from congressional Republicans.
Naturally, Democrats hate the bill, which may be one reason why U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) leaked the president’s alleged comments about certain countries. Instead of negotiating in good faith, Democrats have decided to shut down the government and tar Trump as a racist (again).
What the March 5 Deadline Means
A government shutdown over protecting illegal immigrants may look like a setback. In reality, the immigration fight is unfolding more or less as Trump wanted it to.
Think back to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement on September 5 that the DACA program would have six months to live. Current DACA beneficiaries would have to re-register to receive temporary protections before the program ends.
What happened? Instead of a stampede of people renewing their registration, many have not—leading to tens of thousands losing their protection and facing deportation. In September, there were about 790,000 total DACA recipients; now there are only about 670,000. The fewer DACA recipients, the better.
The six-month delay also spurred negotiation—just as Trump said it would. Had Sessions announced an immediate end to DACA in September, Democrats would have tripled their rhetoric of “resistance.” Instead, there they were at the White House on January 9. With DACA potentially salvageable, Democrats and Republicans came together (briefly) in a move that earned President Trump widespread praise in the media.
At the same time, the March 5 deadline puts all the pressure on the Democrats. Unlike the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was a big legislative win for the GOP, Republicans have no special political urgency to do anything about DACA; that burden is 100 percent on the Democrats, whose hard Left base wants those Dreamers legalized.
Democrats stand to lose if DACA ends—and in a midterm election year no less. They know it, and Trump knows it. The president has said so explicitly in a handful of tweets, chastising the Democrats for the recent stonewalling and sarcastically expressing faux sorrow for the fact that they’re the ones letting any potential deal expire.
As the March 5 deadline draws closer, the Democrats’ hardline stance will waver as they become desperate for a deal. And with DACA done early in the year, Congress should have ample time to tackle other key issues of the Trump agenda (such as infrastructure) before the November elections.
Americans Want Immigration Enforcement
Even if the federal government shuts down over DACA, the Democrats may not get the victory they seek. In many respects, Trump and Republicans retain the upper hand.
Not too long ago, Democrats in both houses of Congress were vowing to shut down the government before Christmas if the spending bill did not address DACA. How did that work out? The Democrats blinked, and they have been blinking ever since DACA’s inception with the failed “DREAM Act.” As author Thomas Wictor has pointed out numerous times on Twitter, the Democrats’ opening negotiation bid was the DREAM Act, which would have given amnesty to millions of illegal alien college students. But that bill has never passed and likely never will.
As sympathetic as “Dreamers” may be, public opinion remains clear on this point: Americans support strong immigration enforcement. Recent polls by NumbersUSA and Pulse Opinion Research show, for example, that immigration reform with serious border security is wildly popular not only in red states held by Democrats (Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia, North Dakota, and Montana) but also among working-class voters in the Rust Belt states Trump carried in 2016 (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan), along with voters across the spectrum in swing states like Ohio and Florida. Just remember this: when the House passed Kate’s Law in June, the bill garnered the support of 24 Democrats in addition to all but one Republican.
Negotiations are far from over, of course, and much may change in the House bill—to say nothing of the possibility that the Senate may offer a bill of its own. But with SAFA and its hawkish “wish list” as the starting point for Trump and the Republicans, the message is clear: no reform of our broken immigration system is possible without rock-solid security that puts American citizens’ interests over those of foreigners. Trump will demand as many changes as possible in exchange for some minimal codification of the already-diminishing DACA program.
This bill should give all Americans hope for the future of our immigration system, regardless of the doomsday predictions from more radical members of Trump’s base.
Trump and his immigration policy plan march on.