The Corner

Immigration

The Dangerous House Immigration Discharge Petition

(Amr Alfiky/Reuters)

Because Speaker Paul Ryan has not brought any DACA bill to the floor, some House Republicans are teaming up with House Democrats to bring a DACA measure to the floor through a discharge petition. If 218 members of the House sign this petition, it will go to the floor. If Democrats unanimously support the discharge petition, they will need 25 Republicans to support it, too. As of this writing, 17 Republicans have signed on to the petition (and that’s just on Wednesday). This discharge petition has significant dangers for the Republican caucus — and for the center-Right on immigration.

This petition would bring a DACA fix to the floor under “queen of the hill” rules: It contains multiple versions of a DACA bill, and the version with the most votes passes. Dara Lind offers a summary of the four options:

  • The Goodlatte bill (temporary status for DACA recipients plus stepped-up enforcement and legal immigration restrictions)
  • The DREAM Act (a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and other DREAMers, with no enforcement trade-offs)
  • The USA Act sponsored by Hurd and Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) (quicker legalization for DREAMers with limits on sponsorship of parents once they become citizens, with some border provisions but no money for a wall)
  • A fourth bill, up to Paul Ryan to decide.

Whether by design or not, this “queen of this hill” structure almost certainly kills the Goodlatte bill: Under the rules for this bill, the legislation with the most votes becomes law. Goodlatte’s bill is likely to get few, if any, Democratic votes. The stand-alone DREAM Act is also unlikely to get the most votes, but this bill has almost no chance of passing the House to begin with. (The fourth bill is an unknown.)

Instead, this voting mechanism is likely to deliver passage of the USA Act, a measure that achieves many of the legislative goals of the Left and immigration maximalists. The USA Act is much more expansive than DACA. It would grant legal status to those who have resided in the United States since January 31, 2013 (DACA only covered those who had been in the U.S. since 2007). The age cut-off for the USA Act is also broader than DACA; DACA applied only to those who had entered the country before their 16th birthday, but the USA Act would give legal status to those who had entered before turning 18. In exchange for this expansive amnesty, the USA Act includes some provisions for border-security efforts, increases the number of immigration judges, and orders DHS to draw up some plans for border security. But it does not mandate significant structural changes to the legal-immigration system or the enforcement system (such as mandating E-Verify). It would be easy to see this bill get overwhelming Democratic support as well as many Republican votes.

This “queen of the hill” structure gives maximum cover to immigration maximalists in Congress. Republican maximalists could vote for the Goodlatte bill, knowing that such a bill would be dead in the water, and then turn around and vote for the USA Act, too. Meanwhile, maximalist Democrats could vote for both the DREAM Act and the USA Act.

The upshot of this dynamic would be for the Republican House to end up voting for a bill that advances few of the priorities of the president or the GOP electoral coalition. This has negative policy and political implications for the center-Right. Putting certain enforcement and legal-immigration reform requirements into a DACA package could help keep this bill from repeating the mistakes of the 1986 amnesty. The USA Act is more of the same — with, probably, more of the same results.

Politically, the USA Act is also likely to face headwinds. If the major accomplishment of the 115th Congress on immigration is to pass an even bigger version of an Obama amnesty, more than a few grassroots voters could be turned off.

The political and policy shortcomings of this act will make it harder for it to pass the Senate and win President Trump’s signature. If the House passes an amnesty bill in this method, the country could be treated to a spectacle of Republicans in hand-to-hand combat on the Hill. Such a spectacle of a party at war with itself bodes ill for November.

As I’ve written before, the best chance (in terms of both policy and politics) for a DACA fix is one that gives the center-Right something in exchange for DACA. And the best way to get this real compromise is for Republicans to stand united (and, likely, with the House staking out a strong position on behalf of conservative priorities). The current discharge petition seems likely to give the center-Right almost nothing, and it drastically weakens the hand of Republican leaders in the House.

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