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The White House Immigration Framework and its Implications

A Pathway for Dreamers Inside an Unpalatable Package

Set in motion last year by President Trump's decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era initiative designed to protect individuals illegally brought into the United States as children, an incensed and sclerotic partisan debate has ensued. As described by the president, he believed the DACA program to be an executive overreach by his predecessor, and as a remedy he gave Congress until March of this year to find a more permanent, legislative solution. 

White House Immigration Framework for DACA

This culminated with a government shutdown over the matter, President Trump at the last moments rejecting a bipartisan bill and even Mr. Schumer's concession of funding for his border wall, a longtime line in the sand for the Democratic Party. The government returned to operation after the weekend, but a continuing resolution to fund the government was only extended until February 8th under the condition that a bill concerning DACA would placed on the Senate floor before that time. 

Both Republicans and Democrats have proven to be equally perplexed when it comes to just what sort of legislation the president wants or at least what he'd be willing to sign if a bill were to arrive at his desk, these answers being necessary for a practical debate to progress. One question is just what kind of DACA fix he is looking for, whether it be a pathway to citizenship or a perpetual re-issuance of work permits, and just how many of these commonly referred Dreamers would be addressed in such a bill. The other question applied to what President Trump demanded in return - mainly the scale of appropriations necessary for his coveted border wall and additional border security. 

It is a legislative quagmire if there ever was one. No one is sure how far Democrats would be willing to go in order to achieve legal status for Dreamers (Mr. Schumer has now stated that border wall funding is off the table) or if Republicans could conversely garner the necessary support to pass any legislation short of maintaining these immigrants illegality, as anything else may meet their abhorred definition of "amnesty" for illegals. 

The White House Releases its Framework

DACA Addressed

The White House finally issued its "Framework on Immigration Reform & Border Security" on January 25th, a one page document offering some answers and a lot of assured melodrama for the next government funding deadline. 

It does make the laudable concession of a broad fix for former DACA recipients and other immigrants of similar circumstance, the framework offering the childhood arrivals legal status and a ten to twelve year path to citizenship. This may be derided as an unnecessarily long span of time for such a pathway, but it is still an ill-needed fix, and such concessions are necessary in the art of negotiation. Moreover, a piece of legislation fitting this framework would not only apply to bona fide DACA recipients (of which there were estimated to be close to 800 thousand), but would cover the much broader class of such similarly situated individuals, the framework designating a population of approximately 1.8 million of undocumented immigrants long residing in the U.S. 

The framework asserts such caveats as "requirements for work, education and good moral character", "eligibility requirements to mitigate fraud" and that the proffered status is "subject to revocation for criminal conduct or public safety and national security concerns, public charge, fraud, etc", but it remains that this would be a definitive win for Dreamers as a whole.

However, the framework designates the majority of the documents space to demands anathema to most Democrats and immigration supporters, making it highly unlikely that any bill of this kind will ever clear the Senate floor. 

Dead on Arrival: A Grab Bag for Immigration Hardliners

President Trump's Wall and Measures for Clamping Down on Illegal Immigration

The substantive majority of the document and the first item broadly addressed in it is increased border security. While Democrats have long insisted that additional measures to bolster the effectiveness of the nation's border security are certainly on the table, what follows in the document is far too outrageous for the average Democrat to possibly stomach. 

In stating its believed necessity that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) be given the means to effectively curb and deter illegal immigration, the framework offers an extensive list of concessions required for any immigration deal to be accepted by the administration. These include:

  • A $25 billion fund for a U.S.-Mexico border wall as well as improvements for northern border security.
  • Appropriations for hiring additional DHS personnel, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys, immigration judges, prosecutors and other such law enforcement.

  • Reforms to the hiring and pay of immigration enforcement personnel to attract and retain higher-skilled individuals.

  • The ending of the catch-and-release policy as well as the closure of legal loopholes.

  • Ensuring the prompt removal of those crossing the border illegally in addition to undocumented criminals and gang members.

  • Utilize expedited removal procedures to deter visa overstays.

  • Prevent synthetic drugs such as fentanyl from entering the U.S.

  • Immigration court reforms for the improvement of efficiency and prevention of fraud and abuse.

Many of these items (though the means of effectively addressing some remain unclear) would be acceptable to Democrats at large in exchange for a DACA fix, but as a whole it is virtually inconceivable that Republicans could pull away enough of the opposing party to secure a majority in the face of such extravagant demands. It is also interesting that instead of focusing on measures proven to increase border security such as investment in more sophisticated border monitoring technology, it instead focuses on personnel and the procedures for dealing with undocumented immigrants already being detained.

Most outlandish is that this long list should include Trump's border wall, as it was already deeply shocking to many that Senate Minority Leader Schumer ever offered it at all even as he was approaching the precipice of a government shutdown, the offer now supposedly being off the table. Coupling such a substantial amount of funds for what many consider an ineffective as well as offensive means of confronting undocumented migrants with an additional immigration enforcement package of such magnitude is sheer lunacy if one actually expects any achievable deal to be reached in Congress.

Cuts to Legal Immigration: "Chain Migration" and the Diversity Visa Lottery

The current administration has never been shy about its opposition to certain programs allowing for prospective immigrants to legally come to the U.S., and it is unsurprisingly seizing upon the current predicament in an attempt to obtain some long exhorted policy goals.

First the framework explains its intention to "protect the nuclear family," something it seeks to accomplish through the limiting of family sponsored visas to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs). This would bring an end to the so-called "chain-migration" issue that has often been a target of the administration's derision, though the chain-migration theory has been been consistently debunked as a myth in practice. It results that meeting the criteria would attack the American value of family reunification by eliminating visa categories for adult children, siblings and parents, in addition to hampering the U.S. economic growth that these immigrant demonstrably provide.

Second, the framework seeks another policy goal in the elimination of the diversity visa lottery, a program that annually allots 50 thousand visas at random to prospective foreign nationals of countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. Stating that the program is "riddled with fraud and abuse" and that it doesn't bring into consideration the benefits of more focused visa selection through merit and  assurance of public safety, the framework intends that the visas instead be reallocated to reduce the current family-based and high-skilled employment backlogs. How this would be pursued and effectively realized remains obscure.

If these above demands were to be met, it is estimated that there would be a 50% decrease in annually issued green cards, a draconian cut to legal immigration as we know it. 

The Legislative Turmoil Continues

It comes as no shock that, save for a few Republicans that see such a comprehensive DACA fix as well worth the plethora of gains in satisfying hardliner anti-immigration policy goals, the framework is an immediate nonstarter for Democrats as well as Republicans that decry any form of supposed amnesty for illegals. 

The White House's framework only comprising a single page, much of the language and procedures are nebulously vague. However, it does appear that the provisions desired would result in a notable increase in officers' authority to detain immigrant adults and children for longer time periods. Furthermore, it may also lead to a greater difficulty for asylum seekers pursuing protection due to higher standards, an increased number of detainees awaiting the procession of their cases or as a result of the need for immigration judges to process an exacerbated caseload too quickly. 

Simply put, this is a set of demands whose implications are proving unpalatable for the majority of Democrats needed for any government breakthrough. With the next government funding deadline swiftly approaching, more gridlock awaits. Consequently, the future security of Dreamers remains distressingly bogged in the hyper-partisanship we have grown so unfortunately accustomed to.