Dreaming of a Dreamer Deal

DACA supporters outside the White House, September 2017. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
The network of groups allied to Charles Koch thinks a pro-Dreamer agreement is close to fruition.

Indian Wells, Calif.

There’s no way a Democratic House and a Republican Senate could pass legislation resolving the future of the Dreamers before Election Day. Or is there?

“Dreamers” is the common term for undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children, who benefited from the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed them to avoid deportation.

The leaders of Stand Together — the coalition of political and charitable organizations established by billionaire Charles Koch — seem oddly optimistic; other observers of the immigration issue might even find their belief that a deal could come together this year to be naïve or loony.

Brian Hooks, president of Stand Together, is convinced that there is a bipartisan majority on Capitol Hill amenable to enacting a legal permanent status for Dreamers, saying that his team has spoken to more than 200 congressional offices. He summarizes the mood in Congress as having plenty of lawmakers who “want to find a solution, but who are afraid of the extremes.”

Jorge Lima, the senior vice president of policy at Americans for Prosperity, laments that the two loudest voices in the immigration debate are the ones pushing for ideas that the broader majority would never accept.

“On one extreme, you see calls to abolish the laws and federal agencies designed to keep dangerous people out of our country,” Lima told the attendees at the Stand Together winter meeting in Indian Wells this past Saturday. “And on the other extreme, you see calls for massive cuts to legal immigration and closures at the border. They say that giving opportunities to immigrants means taking opportunities from Americans, even though the evidence says the opposite.”

The contention of Hooks and Lima is that there is a sensible majority in the middle that can prompt Congress to act, if they simply make their views known to lawmakers.

“Over seventy-five percent of Americans believe that immigration is good — that’s a record high!” Lima said. “The problem is, right now, many of them don’t know it. And it’s causing them to hesitate to stand up for what they believe in.”

There are indeed two major factors, a pair of ticking clocks, that might push Congress to seek out a deal before the election. Sometime in the coming year, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on whether the Trump administration followed proper procedure when it ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created by President Barack Obama in 2012. DACA allowed illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children to receive renewable two-year work permits and exemption from deportation. The Trump administration argued that Obama’s creation of the program was unconstitutional and attempted to cancel the program. DACA program defenders filed suit, arguing that even if the Trump administration had the authority to rescind the program and offers, the manner in which it reached the decision violated the Administrative Procedures Act, which allows judges to overturn an agency’s decision if it is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

Neither outcome at the Supreme Court would mean much certainty for the Dreamers. The court could uphold the rulings that the Trump administration decision was arbitrary, capricious and/or an abuse of discretion — and effectively instruct the administration to go back to the drawing board and start the process of ending the policy again with better justification, which the administration would almost certainly do. (There’s a separate question of how quickly that new replacement version and justification could get enacted.) Or the court could reverse the lower-court rulings and agree with the administration’s reasoning, effectively ending the DACA program.

The other big gamble for the program is the 2020 presidential election. Perhaps a Democrat will beat Trump in 2020 and reinstate DACA quickly after being sworn in. Or maybe Trump wins reelection, ensuring that any reinstatement of the program would be on his terms, if it is reinstated at all.

This means members of Congress who want to see the Dreamers protected might want to reach some sort of deal to reestablish the DACA program now, giving the administration some sort of concessions on border-security funding or other priorities. Trump might want another set of accomplishments — an agreement on the Dreamers and another chunk of miles for the border fence — heading into the 2020 general election. The network is fine with “a more secure border” as being part of a deal on the Dreamers and mentions the poll numbers indicting a majority of Americans want that as an element of immigration policy, too.

Last autumn, in an effort to build up grassroots support for legislation that just resolves the issue of the Dreamers, Stand Together, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, and The LIBRE Institute launched their “Common Ground,” campaign, and with it an interactive exhibit showcasing the contributions of Dreamers and immigrants. Behind a series of doors are doorway-sized video screens that showcase some element of the argument. One features every president from Reagan to Obama touting the value of immigrants to the United States and the importance of enforcing immigration laws. Another tells the story of a Dreamer from Mexico who joined the U.S. Marine Corps and who fought and died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, earning the Navy Cross, an example of the roughly half-million veterans who are immigrants. Another notes that half of the companies that make up the Fortune 500 were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants.

After debuting in Miami, and being displayed in Nashville last year, the exhibit is slated to go to events such as SXSW in Austin, as well as this year’s Democratic and Republican conventions in Milwaukee and Charlotte, respectively, as well as Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, and Oklahoma City.

“We welcome anyone who will contribute, and keep out anyone who won’t,” is how Hooks described the network’s preferred philosophy on immigration to the attendees of the organization’s winter meeting. If he and his well-funded network of grassroots organizations have their way, the country will take another step toward that standard by year’s end.

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