Stephen Miller actually may help with immigration policy
After 12 years of failed attempts at immigration reform, the current round of negotiations is turning on a strangely personalized question: When a deal is being made, should Stephen Miller be at the table?
Miller is the White House’s point man for immigration policy (and for strange and strident encounters with the press). He is also a restrictionist: He wants a policy that favors skillsbased recruitment over extended families, and he wants a lower immigration rate overall.
His critics say he just wants to keep America as white as possible, and that by even bringing him to meetings Trump is making a deal impossible to reach.
The critics are right about this much: Having someone like Miller involved is a change from the way prior negotiations have proceeded. As Jim Antle points out in a column for The Week, those negotiations have been consistently bipartisan, bringing together John McCain and Ted Kennedy, Marco Rubio and Chuck Schumer, now Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin — but “they have mostly taken place between people who are fundamentally in agreement,” who favor both amnesty and reforms that would probably increase immigration rates.
The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t represent the actual divisions in the country. About a third of Americans favor the current trend; slightly fewer want higher rates; and about a third, like Miller, want immigration reduced.
Illegal immigration has slowed over the past decade, and immigration’s potential economic and humanitarian benefits are still considerable. And it’s also clear that many restrictionists are influenced by bigotry — with the president’s excrement-related remarks a noteworthy illustration.
This bigotry, from the point of view of many immigration advocates, justifies excluding real restrictionists from the negotiating table. You can give them a little more money for border security, some promises about reducing illegal entry. But you can’t let them play a large role in shaping policy. The limits of this strategy, though, are evident in the repeated failure of “comprehensive” reform, doomed each time by the gulf between the plans of Republican negotiators and the actual preferences of their voters.
Maybe it would be worth trying to actually negotiate with Miller, rather than telling Trump that he needs to lock his adviser in a filing cabinet, slap on a “beware of leopard” sign, and hustle out to the Rose Garden to sign whatever Durbin and Graham have hashed out.
Especially since last week, Trump and Miller actually made an interesting offer: an amnesty and even a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and other Dreamers, more generous than what many restrictionists favor and with no promise of the new E-Verify enforcements conservatives often seek, in return for a shift (over many years) to a skills-based policy and a somewhat lower immigration rate.
I don’t know if there’s a deal to be had along those lines; restrictionists might rebel, and Democrats might simply not want a grand bargain with this president.
But a bargain that actually reflects the shape of public opinion, not just the elite consensus, can happen only with someone like Miller at the table.