Moving the Goalposts Will Scuttle Conservative Immigration Reform

Supporters of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (DACA) demonstrate on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. President Donald Trump ordered and end of protections for young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children, but gave Congress six months to act on it. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Trump campaigned on securing the border, removing dangerous and violent illegal immigrants from the country and implementing a sensible legal immigration framework that prioritizes our domestic economy above all else. It appears that the president is on the brink of achieving something that presidents Bush and Obama before him could not: Navigating the tricky politics of immigration policy and reaching a bipartisan deal. My, how heads will explode at MSNBC if he pulls it off.


Rumblings from within D.C. suggest that a bill based on the White House’s immigration framework will include a sensible set of reforms that would secure the border, institute a permanent fix for nonviolent, productive DACA recipients, seriously restrict chain migration, and downsize the diversity visa lottery that many conservatives view with suspicion. Cuts in chain migration and diversity visas would be repurposed elsewhere, to more economically efficient, merit-based applicants in a way that appeals to Republicans like Senator Cotton, who is pushing for a more skills-based legal immigration framework.

That means tens of billions of dollars for border security measures and a shift in our immigrant mix to favor the most productive immigrants who wish to participate in our economy, while ending the practice of facilitating unending chain migration of foreign cousins, nieces, and nephews. It also means a solution to the DACA problem left by President Obama’s insistence on executive orders rather than legislation. It would be a good deal for conservatives and for the country.


However, others in the GOP are pushing for a package that includes a net cut to legal immigration by not repurposing the visas cut from the diversity lottery and chain migration. Regardless of the merits of a reduction in legal immigration (even President Trump is on the record in favor of a higher legal immigration rate), the politics will kill the deal altogether. This is a poison pill, and one that will have disastrous consequences.

If the net immigration reduction remains in the bill, there will not be enough votes to pass it. If the net immigration reduction remains in the bill, our broken chain migration model will remain on the books. If the net immigration reduction remains in the bill, we’ll be forfeiting at least $25 billion in spending on the border wall, and we’ll be keeping the diversity lottery intact with no reforms.

In that case, we would also be left with the disaster of leaving DACA recipients on a path to deportation. These are individuals paying the price for their parents’ actions, who are more educated and entrepreneurial than the average population. They are nonviolent, law-abiding, patriotic and highly motivated. The entire point of an immigration bill is to solve two problems: to secure the border, and avoid the mass deportation of the Dreamers.


I’m not sure whose idea it was to include a net cut to legal immigration in the White House immigration reform bill, but they’re operating outside the initial playing field. This is neither the time nor the place to litigate overall immigration levels. It’s a measure designed to tank the entire reform process. Americans will be less safe and less prosperous as a result.


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