Why Conservatives Are Proposing a DACA Deal

Why Conservatives Are Proposing a DACA Deal
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Why Conservatives Are Proposing a DACA Deal
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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With President Trump’s blessing, various factions within the Republican Party are cracking the door open to an amnesty deal for illegal immigrants currently enrolled in the unlawful Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Last week, Reps. Bob Goodlatte, Michael McCaul, Raul Labrador and Martha McSally introduced a relatively narrow and targeted amnesty for current DACA recipients that would come alongside increased border security, robust internal enforcement, and 21st-century reforms to our nation’s legal immigration system called the Securing America’s Future Act.

To be clear, the Goodlatte bill does contain amnesty. Amnesty, as The Heritage Foundation explained in 2013, “comes in many forms, but in all its variations, it … treats law-breaking aliens better than law-following aliens.” Conservatives have rightly opposed amnesty in the past as a failed policy that is anathema to the rule of law, fundamentally unfair to Americans and would-be legal immigrants, and a magnet that attracts more illegal immigration in the future. Those critiques remain as true today as they have been in the past.

Given the unique political circumstances and the legal quagmire created by former President Obama’s unlawful actions, many congressional conservatives are contemplating how best to limit the scope of an amnesty and thus its damage, while also securing important changes to address security, protect sovereignty and enhance economic competitiveness. The shift is exemplified by Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker and House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows urging the House to vote on the Securing America's Future Act.

So why are some House conservatives -- and many of their Senate colleagues -- opening the door to amnesty?

First, the Goodlatte amnesty provision is extremely narrow. It would only allow illegal immigrants who currently have “deferred action on the basis of being brought to the U.S. as minors [to] get a 3-year renewable legal status allowing them to work and travel overseas.” In other words, there would be no permanent status or path to citizenship. And while the Pew Research Center estimated 1.1 million illegal immigrants were eligible for DACA in 2012, only 790,000 ultimately took advantage of the program and fewer than 690,000 remain in it. That number is about 94 percent smaller than the Bush- and Obama-era amnesty proposals, which would have resulted in upward of 11 million illegal immigrants being eligible for one of the greatest gifts imaginable: American citizenship.

Second, the Secure America’s Future Act would make the type of sweeping reforms to our nation’s immigration system that many conservatives have long sought. Perhaps most importantly, the bill would permanently end family-based chain migration by eliminating green card programs for relatives (other than spouses and minor children). In doing so, it delivers on one of President Trump’s red lines from September 2017: “CHAIN MIGRATION cannot be allowed to be part of any legislation on Immigration!" As The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano notes, “Our research supports efforts to end chain migration.”

The manner in which the Goodlatte bill addresses chain migration is important, and stands in stark contrast to discussions in the Senate. For example, Politico reported that “senators are proposing that undocumented parents who brought a child to the United States illegally would not be able to access a pathway to citizenship based on being sponsored by their children.” That is how moderate Republican senators plan “to address conservative concerns about ‘chain migration.’” This is the deal President Trump reportedly rejected late last week, which is good because conservatives entertaining the relatively narrow and targeted amnesty in the Secure America’s Future Act are unlikely to be swayed by such a limited proposal.

Additionally, the Goodlatte-McCaul-Labrador-McSally bill significantly increases internal enforcement of America’s immigration laws and enhances border security through a variety of methods ranging from physical barriers to advanced technologies and additional boots on the ground. It would also end the diversity visa lottery green-card program, which the president called on Congress to “terminate.” The bill makes a number of additional changes to our nation’s legal immigration system as well, including increasing the number of green cards available for certain skilled workers and creating a workable agricultural guest-worker program.

The bill is far from perfect and conservatives may have different views about whether a compromise like this makes sense. That’s fair. What is clear is what the authors of the bill put first — a commitment to fixing broken borders and a flawed immigration system. Fighting to get those reforms into law is a cause worth fighting for as we engage in a good-faith effort to build a national consensus for an immigration policy that makes sense for 320 million American. Now the question is whether congressional Democrats can exhibit a similar level of statesmanship.

Michael A. Needham is chief executive officer of Heritage Action for America.

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