Stephen Miller ac­tu­ally may help with im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - Ross Douthat He writes for the New York Times.

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.

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