The White House immigration outline was released today and it’s not good. It could change tomorrow, for all we know, but as it stands now, this is a preemptive surrender on several issues.
The enforcement component is fine, as far as it goes – there’s no E-Verify, but the White House decided months ago not to push that, thinking it would be a bridge too far for Democrats, since it impacts illegals who are already here.
But the amnesty and chain migration components are fatally flawed. The fact that the amnesty would include a path to citizenship (i.e., the beneficiaries would eventually get green cards like regular immigrants) is fine with me – if you’re going to amnesty illegal aliens, just rip off the band-aid and get it over with.
Instead, the issue is the size of the amnesty, or rather the universe of people who would be amnestied. If – as the White House promised just days ago – the amnesty were confined to those who now actually have DACA work permits (or even those who had them but didn’t renew), administering the amnesty would be relatively straightforward. All those people are already in the DHS database, and even if they were all re-examined as part of the amnesty process (to weed out the fraudsters that snuck past Obama’s eagle-eyed DHS), it could still be done relatively quickly and with minimal disruption of the work of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the DHS component that deals with green cards, work permits, and the like.
But going beyond DACA beneficiaries to those who could have applied but didn’t is a different thing. It’s not just a difference in degree, but in kind. A whole new process will have to be set up for the 1 million additional people who would be expected to apply. The other work of USCIS would grind to a halt, delaying other legal immigration applications, as happened when DACA was originally implemented (and remember that Obama’s DACA amnesty was smaller than what Trump is proposing). In addition, there would be an opportunity cost, with USCIS unable to pursue many urgently needed administrative reforms.
What’s more, expanding the amnesty beyond DACA beneficiaries is morally dubious. The reason they have a compelling case for amnesty before all enforcement measures and in place and legal immigration curbed is that not only did they arrive here as minors but they voluntarily came forward and provided their information to the government. Those who chose not to do so should not be granted the same extraordinary act of mercy.
Then there’s the legal immigration “cuts.” The outline says that no new applications for the visa lottery and the chain-migration categories would be accepted, limiting family immigration to spouses and minor children. Great! But it also provides for the continuation of those categories (and reallocation of the lottery visas) until the admission of all 4 million people on the current chain-migration waiting lists. This is the same gimmick that was in the Hagel-Martinez amnesty bill in 2007 – and the estimate at the time was that it would take 17 years before all those people got their green cards. In other words, legal immigration would not actually be reduced until after President Kamala Harris’s successor took office.
The Cotton and Goodlatte bills both grandfather people on the waiting list who were within one year of getting their green card applications adjudicated, and refund the application fees for everyone else. This is a reasonable measure, since as the date gets closer, people might be selling property and whatnot as part of their relocation planning.
But to wait almost two decades before there’s any reduction in legal admissions is absurd. First of all, if we’re going to amnesty close to 2 million illegal aliens (and maybe more, since past estimates have proven so woefully wrong), that needs to be offset by immediate reductions elsewhere. What’s more, this would be yet another example of the other side getting what it wants up front, with promises of things we want in the future. As Popeye’s friend J. Wellington Wimpy might have said, “I will gladly reduce immigration on Tuesday for an amnesty today.”
The White House has botched the DACA issue, cutting Bob Goodlatte’s House bill off at the knees and making it more likely that either there will be no bill at all or that any final bill the president signs (which is guaranteed to be even weaker than this) will fatally demoralize Republican voters. If the latter happens, the president will be well on the way to joining Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton in the impeached-but-not removed club.
Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.