|DACA supporters march in San Francisco. Photo: David Bacon|
President Trump had dinner with Democratic Congressional leaders Senator Chuck Schumer (NY) and Representative Nancy Pelosi (CA) the evening of September 13. Afterwards the two Democrats issued a statement saying they’d made a deal with Trump to protect the nearly 800,000 young immigrants currently enrolled in President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which the Trump administration is terminating as of next March. “We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides,” Schumer and Pelosi wrote.
As has been usual with this administration, the next day the president contradicted himself several times, but in the end it appeared that Trump and the Democrats had at least made, as Republican senator John Cornyn (TX) put it, “a deal to make a deal.” So passage of a new law to protect young undocumented immigrants is possible, although far from certain.
To steer such a law through Congress the Democrats would need to make compromises in order to get enough Republicans legislators on board.
On September 14 the National Review published an article outlining a mainstream Republican negotiating position for possible talks. The author, National Review deputy managing editor Robert VerBruggen, isn’t especially interested in increased border security. Instead, he wants Republicans to push for an expansion of the E-Verify program, through which employers use an online connection to government data bases to check the legal status of new hires. Making E-Verify mandatory for all private employers should be non-negotiable, VerBruggen writes. And he insists that if DACA recipients are given access to legal status or citizenship, they should be barred from applying for green cards for their parents. Finally, he wants changes to legal immigration, moving away from the current priority for family unification toward greater emphasis on bringing in highly skilled workers. (Although he doesn’t mention it, this would not only add valuable technical workers to the U.S. work pool—it would also lure them away from other countries that might be economic rivals.)
How much of this would the Democrats accept? Many of them already back mandatory E-Verify. It’s true that Chuck Schumer has objections to the program—but only because he wants something tougher. In a 2010 Washington Post op-ed, he and Republican senator Lindsey Graham (SC) called for a biometric Social Security card. “Prospective employers would be responsible for swiping the cards through a machine to confirm a person's identity and immigration status,” Schumer and Graham explained. “Employers who refused to swipe the card or who otherwise knowingly hired unauthorized workers would face stiff fines and, for repeat offenses, prison sentences.”
The Democrats don’t actually have a good record on helping youthful immigrants like the DACA recipients.
Proposals to legislate legalization for childhood arrivals began with the bipartisan DREAM Act in 2001, but the bill stalled in Congress for years. From 2009 to 2011 the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency; they could have passed the bill then, but didn’t. Pressed by the “Dreamers”—young immigrant activists supporting the DREAM Act—in June 2010, Schumer claimed that passing the bill would hurt the chances for passing comprehensive immigration reform later. The Democrats finally brought the DREAM Act up for a vote in December 2010. It passed the House, but the Senate never voted. Supporters couldn’t come up with the 60 votes necessary to block a filibuster by opponents. Three Republicans backed the bill, but it was opposed by five Democrats: Max Baucus and John Tester (MT), Kay Hagan (NC), Ben Nelson (NE), and Mark Pryor of (AR).
|Photo: National Immigrant Youth Alliance/The Dream Is Now|
Will Trump’s Base Desert Him?
Schumer and Pelosi's claim that Trump was making a deal with them stirred outrage among some of Trump’s loudest supporters. “Breitbart News called the president ‘Amnesty Don,’” Politico reported. “Commentator Ann Coulter mused about impeaching Trump. And hard-line immigration hawks in Congress like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) called the contours of the deal an ‘irreparable’ betrayal of Trump's base.”
But it’s not clear that the far right was really breaking with Trump. It seems more likely that people like Coulter are temporarily distancing themselves from the president while stirring up their backers to help push for strong anti-immigrant measures in any potential legislative compromise. A New York Times op-ed by Eric Cantor, a former House majority leader for the Republicans, suggests the latter course. “It is well past time for Republicans to stand up to those on the right who are quick to denounce any sensible solution as amnesty,” he wrote, “and for Democrats to stand up to those on the left who rail against any meaningful steps toward border security and immigration enforcement.”
In other words, the Republicans can hold back the Breitbart types if the Democrats agree to hold back pro-immigrant activists.
(People might wonder why Cantor and Breitbart News see “amnesty” as a pejorative term. This is a reference to the last major legalization of undocumented immigrants, in 1986, which was widely referred to as an "amnesty." Ever since then the right has claimed that the 1986 legalization caused the sharp increase in unauthorized immigration during the 1990s. But there’s no evidence for the claim. Asked to produce evidence, rightwingers generally refuse to answer; an effort to cite the argument in a 2015 lawsuit was laughed out of court. So “amnesty” as used by Cantor and Breitbart is simply a far-right fantasy like “death panels” and the threat of Sharia law. Nevertheless, media like the New York Times still let it be employed in this sense.)
While reporting extensively on the reactions of pundits and politicians, the media haven’t said much about the views of the people actually affected—the DACA recipients themselves.
One exception was NPR’s Morning Edition on September 15. NPR correspondent Richard Gonzales reported on interviews with Dreamers: “[T]hey don't want a deal that would, let’s say, implement the E-Verify system, which requires employers to check the legal status of people they hire. To the Dreamers, that’s just another way of increasing the threat of deportation to their undocumented parents. And they also don’t want a deal in which their DACA status is a tradeoff for enhanced border security. That, they say, would further what they consider the militarization of the border.” (Even in this otherwise excellent report, Morning Edition host Mary Louise Kelly persisted in using in the far right’s sense of “amnesty” as a pejorative term.)