Democrats take U-turn as Trump backs points

Im­mi­gra­tion plan backed for decade Trump’s crack­down on il­le­gals shows stark change from Obama

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN BY STEPHEN DINAN AND AN­DREA NO­BLE

Democrats who sev­eral years ago voted to end the govern­ment’s green-card give­aways and to in­sti­tute a point sys­tem for se­lect­ing some new im­mi­grants are quickly back­ing away now that Pres­i­dent Trump has em­braced the idea.

Once a source of con­sen­sus for a le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that all sides agree is bro­ken, the idea of Amer­i­can of­fi­cials be­com­ing more se­lec­tive in ad­mit­tances has be­come con­tentious. Democrats say they fear how Mr. Trump would em­ploy stricter se­lec­tion cri­te­ria.

One Demo­cratic leader called it “an­ti­im­mi­grant,” and an­other called it a be­trayal of the prin­ci­ples of the Statue of Lib­erty.

The crux of the bill, spon­sored by Repub­li­can Sens. Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas and David Per­due of Ge­or­gia and em­braced last week at the White House by Mr. Trump, would trim the broad range of fam­ily re­la­tion­ships that qual­ify for im­mi­gra­tion and in­ject a govern­ment screen for needed skills and English pro­fi­ciency into em­ployer im­mi­gra­tion.

The bill also would nix the di­ver­sity visa lot­tery that an­nu­ally doles out some 55,000 green cards — sig­nal­ing le­gal per­ma­nent im­mi­gra­tion — based purely on chance.

All three pro­pos­als were sta­ples of the 2007 im­mi­gra­tion bill and were again re­flected in the 2013 bill backed by Democrats from Pres­i­dent Obama down.

“Many peo­ple for­get that re­form­ing the na­tion’s bro­ken im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem to fo­cus on high-skilled la­bor used to be a non­con­tro­ver­sial po­si­tion,” the White House said in a memo last week. “With Democrats strug­gling to con­nect with work­ing-class vot­ers who’ve strug­gled from stag­nat­ing wages for decades, maybe they should take a page from … them­selves.”

The pres­i­dent cast his hard line against il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion as a mat­ter of pub­lic safety, while his push for stricter lim­its to le­gal im­mi­gra­tion he says is a way to pro­tect Amer­i­can work­ers from com­pe­ti­tion.

Mr. Trump’s back­ing for the bill, af­ter his di­vi­sive pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, has helped spur a fever­ish back­lash among con­gres­sional Democrats and im­mi­grant rights ac­tivists, who vow to re­sist the pro­posed changes.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, said the leg­is­la­tion was part of “a hate­ful, sense­less anti-im­mi­grant agenda that in­stills fear.” Some ac­tivists said Mr. Trump was em­brac­ing a “white na­tion­al­ist” agenda by sup­port­ing the im­mi­gra­tion bill.

“This isn’t about mak­ing Amer­ica great again; it’s about mak­ing Amer­ica white again,” said Lynn Tra­monte, deputy direc­tor of Amer­ica’s Voice Ed­u­ca­tion Fund. “This is iden­tity pol­i­tics at its worst. And from both a pol­icy and po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tive, de­cid­edly un-Amer­i­can.”

But Mark Kriko­rian, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies, said the main parts of the bill match the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Clin­ton-era Com­mis­sion

Pres­i­dent Trump has over­seen huge in­creases in ar­rest­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grants in­side the U.S., push­ing them through the im­mi­gra­tion courts to­ward de­por­ta­tions and stop­ping new­com­ers from en­ter­ing along the south­west­ern border, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics re­leased last Tues­day.

While the gi­ant border gains re­ported in the early days of the pres­i­dency have di­min­ished, Mr. Trump is still well ahead of the Obama era, with the num­ber of il­le­gal im­mi­grants be­ing snared — a mea­sure of the over­all flow — down by 46 per­cent in July com­pared with the same pe­riod last year.

The im­mi­gra­tion courts are also mov­ing faster in or­der­ing de­por­ta­tions, is­su­ing nearly 50,000 re­moval or­ders from Fe­bru­ary through July — up 28 per­cent com­pared with the same pe­riod last year un­der Pres­i­dent Obama.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said the num­bers show Mr. Trump has taken the im­mi­gra­tion is­sue se­ri­ously, which was one of his most promi­nent cam­paign prom­ises.

At the border, the U.S. is on pace for the low­est num­ber of ap­pre­hen­sions in four decades. That num­ber is con­sid­ered a rough yard­stick for the over­all flow, mean­ing a drop in the num­ber of peo­ple caught sig­nals a drop in the over­all flow of il­le­gal border cross­ings, of­fi­cials say.

In the in­te­rior, de­por­ta­tions are down this fis­cal year, but ar­rests by U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment are up, as are or­ders of re­moval is­sued by im­mi­gra­tion courts in the Jus­tice Depart­ment. on Im­mi­gra­tion Re­form, known more col­lo­qui­ally as the Jor­dan Com­mis­sion, af­ter the late Bar­bara Jor­dan, a promi­nent black lib­eral con­gress­woman who led the panel.

“Was Bar­bara Jor­dan a white na­tion­al­ist? Was she a hater? Of course not. She was a pa­tri­otic Amer­i­can who was a lib­eral Demo­crat,” said Mr. Kriko­rian, who backs stricter im­mi­gra­tion lim­its.

The Per­due-Cot­ton bill, for­mally known as the Re­form­ing Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion for Strong Em­ploy­ment Act, or RAISE Act, calls for trim­ming the ex­tent of im­mi­gra­tion based on fam­ily ties to spouses, chil­dren who are mi­nors and, in lim­ited cases, par­ents. That would elim­i­nate sib­lings and adult chil­dren from the queue. The over­all num­ber of fam­ily visas also would be low­ered.

Em­ploy­ment-based green cards would be changed with a point sys­tem to se­lect im­mi­grants. Pref­er­ence would go to those with key skills who can demon­strate an abil­ity to be fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent and who show pro­fi­ciency in English.

An anal­y­sis by the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute said the point sys­tem was a small change, bring­ing in a slightly more skilled work­force than present, but the changes to fam­ily im­mi­gra­tion by lim­it­ing spon­sor­ships would be ma­jor.

That sug­gests the is­sue isn’t a lack of willpower but rather a change in the com­po­si­tion of peo­ple ICE is handling. Sim­ply put, Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials say fewer peo­ple caught at the border means fewer peo­ple who can be de­ported with­out fac­ing long le­gal bat­tles.

“You have fewer peo­ple com­ing across the border, so you nec­es­sar­ily, even­tu­ally, have fewer re­movals,” said David La­pan, a spokesman for the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment.

One danger sign, though, is a re­newed spike in the num­bers of fam­i­lies and un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren (UAC) who are jump­ing the border. The Border Pa­trol re­ported a 27 per­cent rise in UAC ap­pre­hen­sions and a 46 per­cent surge in peo­ple trav­el­ing as fam­i­lies in July, com­pared with June.

Just a few months ago, the ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­peared to have re­solved the prob­lem. UAC and fam­ily ap­pre­hen­sions hov­ered at about 1,000 a month.

But UAC num­bers are now nearly 2,500 a month, and fam­ily ap­pre­hen­sions were nearly 3,400 in July.

Dur­ing the Obama-era surge, those num­bers reached more than 10,000 a month each for UAC and fam­ily ap­pre­hen­sions, as Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants streamed north, be­liev­ing lax en­force­ment would give them a chance to earn a foothold in the U.S.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been try­ing to dig out of that hole with a se­ries of poli­cies in­clud­ing tar­get­ing for de­por­ta­tion UAC and fam­i­lies that have had their day in im­mi­gra­tion court but are ig­nor­ing or­ders or re­moval.

Mr. Trump has also asked for money

“For the fam­ily-based sys­tem, halv­ing the num­bers would come at the strong price of re­duc­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for fam­ily unity, a deeply rooted value in U.S. im­mi­gra­tion his­tory,” the think tank said in its anal­y­sis.

Democrats have em­braced a point sys­tem in the past as part of broader deals to le­gal­ize most il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

In 2007, a point sys­tem was at the heart of the im­mi­gra­tion bill worked out by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy. That bill also dra­mat­i­cally cut the num­ber of fam­ily mem­bers who could be spon­sored for fu­ture mi­gra­tion.

Among those who voted for the 2007 bill were Mr. Obama, then-Sen. Hil­lary Clin­ton, cur­rent Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer and his chief lieu­tenant Sen. Richard J. Durbin, and 13 other cur­rent Demo­cratic se­na­tors.

The Se­nate’s 2013 im­mi­gra­tion bill, worked out by four Democrats and four Repub­li­cans and backed by Mr. Obama, in­cluded scaled-down ver­sions of the point sys­tem and slim­mer fam­ily mi­gra­tion.

That bill gar­nered sup­port of ev­ery Demo­crat in the Se­nate.

Both the 2007 and 2013 bills also elim­i­nated the di­ver­sity visa lot­tery. Law­mak­ers at the time agreed that the coun­try’s im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem was ex­pan­sive enough that to be­gin build­ing his border wall, with pro­to­types to be built later this year.

Mr. La­pan said Home­land Se­cu­rity is study­ing the trends and isn’t cer­tain whether they mean a new spike or just sea­sonal tweaks.

“The short an­swer is we don’t know what all of those causes are,” he said.

Still, even with the rise month to month, the num­bers are lower than they have been in years.

U.S. Cus­toms and Border Pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers at the ports of en­try recorded 6,833 in­ad­mis­si­ble aliens try­ing to en­ter. The Border Pa­trol, mean­while, nabbed 18,198 peo­ple who had sneaked across the border.

The com­bined num­ber of 25,031, while the high­est un­der Mr. Trump, is lower than any month un­der Mr. Obama dat­ing back to De­cem­ber 2011.

When con­sid­ered on a year-to-year ba­sis, the gains are in­deed stun­ning. In July 2016, the Border Pa­trol nabbed 33,737 il­le­gal im­mi­grants — 85 per­cent more than this year’s to­tal.

The pres­i­dent has re­peat­edly cited progress on the border as one of his ma­jor suc­cesses early in his ten­ure. He pointed to the progress as one of the rea­sons he tapped his first home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary, John F. Kelly, to be­come White House chief of staff.

Im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates have ve­he­mently com­plained about Mr. Trump’s ex­panded fo­cus on en­forc­ing im­mi­gra­tion laws and begged him to use dis­cre­tion to stop de­port­ing long­time il­le­gal im­mi­grants who, de­spite their unau­tho­rized sta­tus, have been able to build roots in their com­mu­ni­ties. the lot­tery sys­tem was no longer needed.

A stand-alone bill to cut the di­ver­sity lot­tery and to pump those visas back into high-skilled pro­grams also cleared the Repub­li­can-led House in 2012, with 27 Democrats and most Repub­li­cans vot­ing for it.

Mr. Kriko­rian said the change in Democrats’ at­ti­tude stems from anti-Trump sen­ti­ment — “any­thing Trump is for, they have to be against” — and from chang­ing pol­i­tics within the Demo­cratic Party, where in­di­vid­ual im­mi­gra­tion pro­grams now have key con­stituents as back­ers.

The di­ver­sity visa lot­tery is a fa­vorite of the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus, which ar­gues that it’s one way to boost im­mi­gra­tion from African coun­tries un­der­rep­re­sented else­where in the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.

Mean­while, the lines of ex­tended fam­ily im­mi­gra­tion are defended by Asian ad­vo­cacy groups who see their com­mu­ni­ties as ma­jor ben­e­fi­cia­ries of al­low­ing im­mi­grants to spon­sor sib­lings for fu­ture im­mi­gra­tion.

Democrats aren’t the only ones to un­dergo a shift on im­mi­gra­tion.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can, voted for a 2006 bill that would have granted a swift path to ci­ti­zen­ship to mil­lions of il­le­gal im­mi­grants be­fore switch­ing sides a year later and vot­ing against the 2007 bill.

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