Politics & Policy

The GOP Must Win a Better Deal on DACA

President Trump speaks at a bipartisan meeting on immigration at the White House, January 9, 2018. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)

At a partially televised bipartisan meeting about immigration on Tuesday, President Trump demonstrated that he’s not, despite the fevered fantasies of the Left, senile; unfortunately, he also demonstrated that he’s not necessarily reliable on immigration policy.

Trump was optimistic that an agreement to codify DACA, President Obama’s unlawful de facto amnesty for a segment of so-called Dreamers, would eventually be struck. We, too, think there is a deal to be had in theory, but it must be carefully crafted. On Tuesday, Trump said he would sign anything Congress sent him. The White House, thankfully, quickly walked this back, and Trump said at a press conference yesterday that he would veto any bill that doesn’t contain funding for the Wall.

Republicans, as a general matter, shouldn’t be passing any form of amnesty until we have a fully functioning system of enforcement. This is an exception, since DACA recipients already were benefiting from a de facto amnesty, and they are the most sympathetic portion of the illegal-immigrant population. Most of them were brought here when they were young through no fault of their own (although most of them are not “kids” anymore). But any amnesty sends a message that we aren’t serious about our own laws, and has doleful down-stream effects. The GOP should obviously be seeking to minimize those and get concessions in exchange for an amnesty for Dreamers.

There have been several versions of the DREAM Act, and Democrats will push for the most expansive iteration and pretend it is identical to a legislative fix for DACA. While a recent version of the DREAM Act was projected to cover more than 2 million illegal immigrants, DACA only affects around 750,000. A DACA deal should be a DACA deal — not a broader amnesty. It should seek to give relief only to those illegal immigrants who were caught up in the mess created by Obama’s lawless act and brought themselves forward to apply for the program.

The most important enforcement measure to get in a trade for DACA would mandatory E-Verify, requiring employers to confirm they are hiring only legal workers. But Democrats know this would significantly curtail the market for illegal labor and lead to a diminishment of the illegal immigrant population, so it’s a such a non-starter that the White House and congressional Republicans aren’t even trying to push for it.

They have focused instead on ending chain migration and the visa lottery. Reforming chain migration would mitigate the follow-on consequences of amnestying hundreds of thousands of people, as well as reducing the number of legal immigrants we are admitting annually. (Democrats have been willing to consider changes to the chain-migration rules at least for the DACA population itself.) The visa diversity lottery doesn’t directly relate to DACA, but it allows immigrants to come here on a completely random basis and few are willing to defend the program on its merits.

Of course, Trump has made a top priority of securing funding for the border wall. We can always use more resources at the border, but the wall should rightfully be down the page of any restrictionist wish list (in addition to E-Verify, a working entry-exit visa system and cooperation from local officials on enforcement are more important). And reforming chain migration and ending the visa lottery are, substantively, much more meaningful changes.

Republicans should emphasize them over the Wall, which Democrats vociferously oppose, not just because they are increasingly hostile to all forms of enforcement, but because they consider it symbolically anathema. The Democrats also probably prefer to have the issue of DACA, rather than make any significant concessions to codify it. Trump may sound boosterish about a deal now, but ultimately the best call may be to walk away.


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