Thursday, January 25, 2018

About That Immigration Framework...

So the White House released a broad outline of a "framework" for a DACA deal today.  The one-pager on the framework is here.  The four big components:

  • $25 billion for a wall trust fund along with other enforcement efforts.
  • Legal status and path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million people (so more than DACA).
  • An eventual end to chain migration: going forward, citizens and legal permanent residents could sponsor only spouses and minor children. Existing backlogs for other immigration categories would be cleared over time, but no new people could be added for those categories.
  • The redistribution of the diversity lottery to other visa categories.

More details will be coming next week.  And I think those details will be important--especially for the changes in chain migration.  Some GOPers--like Tom Cotton and Mitch McConnell--have praised the framework, but some House Republicans are reportedly unhappy with the deal, which they believe gives too much to immigration maximalists.  Some Democrats have denounced it, but others--especially key figures like Claire McCaskill--have been quiet.  So we'll have to see how viable this framework is from both policy and political standpoints.

I'm not necessarily endorsing or attacking this framework, but a few thoughts about it below.

Because of a variety of reasons, much of the media is going to fixate on the "path to citizenship" element of this framework.  While this is a major concession by the White House (especially expanding it beyond DACA), there's a certain political logic to it.  It's almost certain that any individuals given permanent legal status in an amnesty will eventually be put on some path to citizenship.  I doubt there's enough of a constituency for permanent status without citizenship for that to be permanently sustainable.  So, if citizenship is going to be given, it might as well be given up front in exchange for other, tangible policies.  There's also a case to be made for ensuring that the U.S. does not have a permanent, legally recognized class of second-class residents.  I've long suggested that citizenship/non-citizenship might not be the most important red line in amnesty negotiations--what really matters are the structural reforms gained in exchange for that amnesty.

Which brings me to other elements in the plan.  Allowing the backlogs of current chain-migration petitioners (siblings, etc.) to be cleared might minimize the risks of legal challenges were this framework to become law.  One could imagine people with pending applications to immigrate filing a lawsuit saying that those petitions should be honored.  One could also imagine U.S. citizens with family members with pending applications suing.  Allowing those in the backlog to enter eventually voids that legal risk.  It will take a while to clear the backlogs, so the historically high rate of legal immigration would continue for years.  Now, there's a chance that this reform to chain-migration could be undone by later Congresses, so there's a possibility that this reform might never actually take effect.  (Of course, all reforms to the legal-immigration system could be reversed.)  It doesn't deliver any specifics about any changes to skills-based migration, either.

The one-pager doesn't list anything about E-Verify, so that might wait for another day (pending new details being released).  And, obviously, all enforcement efforts could be blocked by the "Resistance" in the judiciary.

In this deal, the White House is offering an amnesty about half the size of the 1986 amnesty up front in exchange for improved enforcement mechanisms and eventual significant structural changes to the legal-immigration system.  Putting nearly 2 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship, the White House proposal is much more generous than DACA ever was.  It gives a lot to Democrats and DREAM Act activists--much more than many House Republicans might be comfortable with.  Does it give enough to make a deal?  The Left will have to decide how much of a priority it assigns to granting legal status to DACA-eligible people.  Meanwhile, the Right (and the pro-worker Left) will have to decide whether increased enforcement provisions and eventual structural reforms to the legal-immigration system are enough to agree to an upfront amnesty.  (And, of course, there's also the debate about the precise details of any structural reform.)

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