The only thing bleaker than the Michigan winter right now is the prospect of Congress actually agreeing on a fix for Dreamers before the current
government-funding bill that the Senate passed last weekend expires in two weeks. Republican nativists are gearing to demand several pounds of immigrant flesh in exchange for leaving Dreamers unmolested, which will make a deal neither tenable—nor desirable.
To say that this administration has been a nightmare on immigration would be an understatement. Trump has escalated America's War on Immigration on every front. He declared open season on millions of undocumented workers right off the bat when he scrapped, without much political hue and cry, the Obama-era policy of limiting deportation action to criminal aliens while leaving others alone. Since then, ICE has been rounding up folks on the flimsiest of pretexts—and sometimes without any pretext at all—whenever and wherever it can lay hands on them, even in "sensitive locations" such as hospitals and courts, something that no president has ever done before.
Last week, Trump raided about a hundred 7-11 stores to round up illegals. And Derek N. Benner, acting head of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations has assured that this is only the beginning. "This is what we're gearing up for this year and what you're going to see more and more of is these large-scale compliance inspections, just for starters," he declared.
In addition, in recent days, ICE has stopped Greyhound buses in Miami and demanded to see the passports of all the passengers, Americans and others alike. (Miami falls within the 100-mile Constitution-free zone where ICE has virtual carte blanche to set up checkpoints at will.) The agency has arrested, pending deportation, a 39-year-old Polish doctor with a valid green card who has lived in Michigan for 30 years and is married to an American woman and has American kids. Why? For acts of "moral turpitude" committed when he was 17, one of which has already been expunged from his record! And it's not just immigrants ICE is going after. It is dusting off anti-harboring laws, rarely ever used except in instances of human smuggling, to target Americans who have the temerity to offer help to undocumented aliens. (As I argued in a recent Reason feature, a full-blown War on Immigration will inevitably swallow the rights and liberties of Americans as well.)
Given this all-out assault, it is hard to imagine that the administration will do right by Dreamers.
Trump last night said he would support handing citizenship to Dreamers. That would make sense given that these people are essentially Americans without papers. They have grown up here, speak English, hold jobs (generating nearly $40 billion for the economy annually), pay taxes, have American families and, above all, have zero to little contact with their birth-land.
But it is hard to take Trump seriously, not only because he has said conciliatory stuff many times only to walk it back when Chief of Staff John Kelly gives him the eye, but also because he is a fan of Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte's Securing America's Future Act. The bill is the stuff of nativist wet dreams and yet—or perhaps that's why—the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen's has offered it a ringing endorsement. She declared that it "reflects many of the policy principles and priorities" of this administration.
The bill doubles down on funding for Trump's idiotic wall, enhanced border security and defunding of sanctuary jurisdictions. It also wants a 40 percent cut in legal family-based immigration that Trump berates as "chain migration." It would end the diversity visa program, implement a biometric exit and entry system, and mandate E-verify of all employers.
As if all of this is not devilish enough, consider its other details:
- It would make America's asylum program literally unusable even for legitimate asylum seekers whom the country is legally required to offer a hearing
- It would make overstaying a visa for even a day a criminal rather than a civil offense, even if the government fucks up renewal applications, which it often does. Overnight, it will turn four million aliens into criminals.
- It would make it a criminal offense for legal permanent residents to not have their green cards on them at all times
And what exactly would it offer in return?
A path to citizenship or at least permanent residency for all undocumented workers? Nope. A path to citizenship or permanent residency for all Dreamers? Nope. A path to citizenship or permanent residency for at least all those who have DACA? Nope.
It will offer non-immigrant status on a renewable basis to a small slice of DACA recipients who can meet its onerous eligibility criteria. Excluded will be: Dreamers who have already lost DACA. And those who were under 15 years of age and therefore never covered by DACA. And those who were over the age of 31 on June 2012. And those who entered after 2007. All in all, two-thirds of all Dreamers wouldn't qualify—not even if they are veterans.
But the real kicker is that Dreamers who do qualify would have to maintain income levels 125 percent of the poverty line or they would be subject to deportation. In effect, the bill would criminalize poverty in this sweet land of liberty!
Even if this monstrosity doesn't get enacted in toto, it offers a chilling glimpse into the extreme lengths that nativists are prepared to go in order to cleanse this country of immigrants.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) claimed on The Rachel Maddow Show that Democrats are in a much stronger position to get something sans such Goodlatte-style nativist poison pills after they voted to end the government shutdown last weekend. He claims that Democrats need only a handful more of Republican votes to get the 60 they need for a relatively clean Dreamer fix along the lines of what the bipartisan Gang of Six worked out. (That effort isn't perfect because it does not go far enough but it is admittedly much better than anything else around.) Schumer believes that since Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, went on the Senate floor and declared in front of 10 million TV viewers that he would allow a vote on the bill before February 8, when the current government-funding bill expires, the prospects of getting it through the Senate are good.
But Schumer seems to have forgotten that for a bill to become law, it needs to pass not just in the Senate but also the House. And Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) has already declared that House Republicans won't be "bound" by any Senate bill. Many members of the misnamed Freedom Caucus are also opposed to a clean Dreamer fix. If Schumer and other immigration doves vote for a permanent spending bill and their Dreamer bill gets slammed in the House, they'll have lost crucial leverage without rescuing Dreamers from the tender mercies of GOP nativists.
The only way they can ensure that this won't happen is by demanding that the House pass an acceptable Dreamer fix that does not cut legal immigration or demand E-verify etc before February 8. For that, Trump will have to take on Goodlatte, Scalise and the rest of the merry band of House nativists since they aren't listening to House Speaker Paul Ryan anymore. Despite Trump's promising statement that he favors a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, there is as much chance he'll push these nativists to agree to an "amnesty" deal as he'll give up tweeting.
So there is every reason to expect that come March 5 there will be no deal and Dreamers will be screwed. If you hear any sound at the Southern border, it'll be the sobs of families as ICE agents forcibly remove their loved ones from this land of the free and home of the brave.