We’re Not Focused On the Biggest Part of Trump’s Immigration Agenda

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2018 -- U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a joint press conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg (not seen) at the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, on Jan. 10, 2018. U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Washington could "conceivably" re-enter into the global Paris climate agreement, from which he announced the withdrawal last year. (Xinhua/Ting Shen)
Xinhua News Agency/Xinhua News Agency

Yesterday, on behalf of the President, Sarah Sanders released a statement outlining the “four pillars” of his immigration plan.

Here’s the text …

Last fall, the White House sent Congress a list of the core reforms necessary to fix our immigration system. These reforms were assembled in coordination with frontline law enforcement officers and career public servants who know what is necessary to keep America safe. Since that time, President Donald J. Trump and his Administration have hosted dozens of meetings with Republican and Democrat leadership and rank-and-file members of the House and Senate to discuss these reforms and find a bipartisan path forward. Based on these negotiations, the White House will release a legislative framework on Monday that represents a compromise that members of both parties can support. We encourage the Senate to bring it to the floor. This framework will fulfill the four agreed-upon pillars: securing the border and closing legal loopholes; ending extended-family chain migration; cancelling the visa lottery, and providing a permanent solution on DACA. After decades of inaction by Congress, it’s time we work together to solve this issue once and for all. The American people deserve no less.

The document refers to “the four agreed-upon pillars” as though this is some agreed upon baseline, which isn’t at all true. But I want to focus on the substance of what is described. One and four are clear enough: one is some version of security/wall. It’s notable that it doesn’t explicitly say a “wall”. The last is a “permanent solution” for DACA. That could mean anything. But its’ the issue of DACA.

Two and three are key, as are what is not included.

In brief, two and three equal a dramatic reduction in legal immigration and changes which would dramatically reduce the number of non-white immigrants. Again, very straightforward: a dramatic reduction of legal immigration.

For years, at least the notional contours of the immigration debate had it that everybody supported immigration. It’s who we are. It’s the American dream. Immigrants bring fresh energy, skills. We’re all immigrants, etc. Of course, much of the activism against ‘illegal immigration’ was hostility to immigration in general. But it is nonetheless significant that those sentiments didn’t feel comfortable expressing themselves openly. So anti-immigrants politics had to express itself as opposition to illegal immigration.

That’s now out the window. The core of Trump’s reform is a dramatic reduction of legal immigration and changes which change the ethnic and racial makeup of the immigration which continues.

What is just as important is what is not included. The so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” which was several times pushed and failed over the last decade had two basic pillars: new security and impediments to illegal immigration and some settlement for the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants who are already in the country and in many cases have been here for years or even decades. “DACA” was one portion of that larger whole – what we might call the most “deserving” subsection the 10 to 12 million: undocumented immigrants who came too young to have any choice in the matter and knew no other country than the US, despite not being citizens.

Trump’s pillars don’t explicitly say these 10 to 12 million people must all be deported. But that’s the upshot. And it seems unlikely that we’ll remain in the status quo of the last dozen years or so. Trump is on record for mass deportation and he’s shown for a year that he is as good as his word. We don’t need to guess. Mass deportation is already the policy and practice.

So we’ve gone from border security in exchange for a path to citizenship (Bush and Obama-era comprehensive reform) to the Wall, mass deportation and a dramatic reduction and whitening of legal immigration. Non-deportation of ‘Dreamers’ is now the apparent ‘compromise’ point. But even that seems highly dubious.

These changes, certainly not without some normalization for people who’ve already put down roots in the country, are not things Democrats can possibly agree to. My own evolving take is that Democrats should be willing to go along with some version of the wall in exchange for a protection and a path to citizenship for Dreamers. Walls, frankly, can be torn down. It’s a huge waste of money. But walls can be torn down. And the money budgeted this year can be taken back next year. It will take years even to get started. It is a huge mistake and waste of money. But protections for almost a million American young people (de facto not de jure) is worth it. We should be focusing on Trump’s broader plan, to try to cut America off to immigrants in general and make a last stand for America as a white man’s country.

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