Politics & Policy

The White House’s Welcome Proposal on Immigration

A U.S. Border Patrol agent at the U.S.-Mexico border wall near San Diego, Calif., April 2017. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

The White House released an immigration proposal yesterday and we are not ready to rummage through the office to find a MAGA hat to burn.

The proposal is not entirely to our liking, but it is a serious and genuine attempt to reach enough common ground to get 60 votes in the Senate by appealing to a slice of Senate Democratic moderates. It expands the amnesty from the 700,000 beneficiaries of DACA to a larger pool of 2 million, in exchange for more resources and legal authorities at the border and changes in the legal-immigration system.

We are not enthusiastic about the larger amnesty, which is a significant political concession and will present a real administrative challenge to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The White House is willing to go all the way and give the so-called Dreamers a pathway to citizenship. This strikes us as reasonable enough — if we make the collective decision that these people should stay in the U.S., they shouldn’t do it as second-class citizens. But any amnesty, especially one this large, is a break from what has been a fundamental principle of immigration hawks: Establish a functioning system of enforcement before any amnesty potentially draws more illegal immigrants here by sending the message that they might be able to stay. The gains in enforcement and a tighter legal system would have to be substantial to make this departure worthwhile.

The White House wants a $25 billion trust fund for border enforcement and new resources for immigration agencies, and changes in law. The little stuff here — all aimed at ensuring that when we catch illegal immigrants at the border we can detain and send them home — is much more important than a wall itself. It would, without a doubt, put a further crimp on illegal immigration.

On the legal side, the White House wants to eliminate the visa lottery and end family categories except for spouses and minor children. These represent large-scale reforms to the system that would, if immediately implemented, quickly reduce the number of green cards issued by a third or more. The possibility of Congress signing up for such a rapid change seems remote, so the White House is proposing to, in effect, phase in the reforms over time by still working through the current family-visa backlog of all sorts of relatives of immigrants waiting to get into the country (the details of how this would happen would matter a lot). We understand the concern of our friend Mark Krikorian that it will take so long to clear the backlog, perhaps ten years, that we’ll never see the effect of the curtailed family categories. But a future Congress would affirmatively have to go back and rewrite the law to expand the family categories.

It’s not clear when immigration hawks will again have the chance to make even such a slow-fuse change in the legal-immigration system, and in fact, the window may be completely shut after the November mid-terms. As it is, even this may be a bridge too far for the Senate. If so, we still believe that the cleanest, best deal would be a trade of a smaller codification of DACA for a mandatory E-Verify system to keep employers from hiring illegal labor. The White House is, understandably, trying to figure out a plausible way to go big; there’d be no shame in going small, and pocketing a key enforcement priority.


NR Editorial: Don’t Buckle on Immigration

What Is Our Responsibility for the Undocumented Population?

Choosing Immigration Criteria Is a Sisyphean Task


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