Monday, January 29, 2018

President Trump’s Immigration Proposal Holds DACA Recipients Hostage to Extreme Right’s “Wish List” of Immigration Restrictions


                Last week, in the latest in a year of immigration bombshells, President Trump floated an immigration reform proposal that would provide relief to the recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) but would also appropriate billions of dollars to build the wall along the U.S./Mexico border, increase detention and immigration enforcement, reduce family-based immigration in order to end “extended-family chain migration,” and otherwise limit the available immigrant visas. If nothing else, the proposal makes it clear that President Trump, unlike any other president in modern American history, is dedicated to increased immigration enforcement and reducing the overall level of legal immigration.

            Congress has debated immigration reform for more than a decade. President Trump’s announcement of the end of DACA created the latest impetus for congressional action. Due to a court order, DACA recipients currently are eligible for renewals but no new applications are being accepted. The President’s proposal would provide a path to legalization for DACA recipients.

            However, critics from both the left and the right quickly balked at the President’s proposal. Immigration hawks have decried the “amnesty” for “illegals.” Immigrant advocates claim that the border wall, increased enforcement, and reductions in legal immigration are too steep a cost to pay for a path to legalization for a subset of undocumented immigrants.

            In many respects, the nation is back to where it was in 2013 when the Senate passed an immigration reform package with a path to legalization, more enforcement, and tinkering with legal immigration. Like the Trump proposal, the Senate Bill, which the Republican House leadership prevented from coming to a vote, also generated criticism from the left and the right.

            We return to the recurring question: how do we as a nation move forward on immigration? Congress could consider a “clean DACA” bill that deals only with the legal status of the DACA recipients and address immigration reform more generally in the future. Or, as President Trump has proposed, Congress could approach more comprehensive immigration reform at this time with legal status for the current DACA recipients coming at the cost of more enforcement and reduced immigration for generations.

            While providing relief to some DACA recipients, the President’s proposal would increase immigration enforcement and decrease the numbers of legal immigrants. The doubling down on enforcement would likely increase the fear and trepidation experienced by immigrants across the United States, which has hit high levels as the Trump administration has ramped up enforcement efforts, including most recently through workplace raids with promises of more raids.

            In essence, in seeking to reduce legal migration, President Trump’s proposal holds the DACA recipients hostage to fundamental restriction of the U.S. immigration laws and the abandoning of one of its central goals of promoting family reunification. The proposal’s restriction of family-based immigration to the nuclear family would not allow for the admission mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and other relatives of immigrants.

            Many observers see reducing family immigration as an effort to turn back the clock and reduce immigration from the three biggest immigrant sending countries – Mexico, China, and India, all populated by people of color. Indeed, unlike any modern President, President Trump’s entire approach to immigration focuses on race, national origin, and religion, from his derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants in the presidential campaign, repeated efforts to restrict admission of noncitizens from predominantly Muslim nations, elimination of temporary protected status for 200,000 Salvadorans, to his recent crass statements about restricting immigration from Africa, Haiti, and other developing nations.

            In sum, the nation sorely needs immigration reform. However, in seeking to forge a necessary compromise, Congress and the nation must take care to ensure that the compromises are both fair and make policy sense for regulating immigration in the global economy of the 21st century. One-sided compromises that punish immigrants and run counter to national values and ideals simply cannot stand.


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