Here’s a question for a civics debate: Which of the following bills has the best chance of becoming law — the one that failed to win a veto-proof majority in the Senate on a 54-45 yea vote or the one that couldn’t even win a simple majority, having gotten deep-sixed by a 60-39 nay vote? Most Americans would see this as a no-brainer, as Example 1 received 15 more votes than Example 2. Just don’t tell that to the White House.
Thursday’s immigration vote debacle proves that with or without Stephen Bannon, the far-right has captured President Donald Trump on this issue. The president who once said he’d sign whatever Congress gave him on the subject as a “bill of love” and take the heat if lawmakers also funded a border wall? Remember him? That may have happened just last month, but that guy is ancient history. Democrats caved on the subject of paying for a border wall. Their last version, the measure that fell six votes short of a fillibuster-proof majority, included a whopping $25 billion for border security.
Had that bill actually passed, we’d likely be complaining today that Congress was wasting taxpayer dollars on such a folly, particularly given that undocumented immigration has declined since its peak a decade ago and the majority arriving each year have not crossed the border illegally, they’ve overstayed their visas. The main reason to build a border wall is to allow Mr. Trump to fulfill a campaign promise, foolish though it was. But the Senate wasn’t willing to be merely wasteful, they had to go for wasteful and inept. Why? Because the “bill of love” president lobbied hard to kill the bipartisan compromise in favor of Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley’s version of immigration “reform,” which slaps onerous restrictions on legal immigration and family reunification. That’s the measure that won overwhelming rejection, including 14 nay votes from the GOP.
So let’s go back to the first question. How did the White House characterize last Thursday’s failure? As the fault of “Schumer Democrats” (as in Minority Leader Chuck Schumer) even though it was the Democrat-supported version that came closest to passing. President Trump tweeted that the Democrats’ bill would have been a “catastrophe” and the “end of immigration enforcement” when, in fact, it comes closest to preserving the status quo — while also protecting “Dreamers,” the immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and, in many cases, have gone to school here, hold jobs here and have never known another country.
Most everyone involved in the immigration debate claims to want to find a path to legal status for the Dreamers, and polls show Americans overwhelming support that proposition, so why can’t that get done? President Barack Obama signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action in 2012 because Congress couldn’t get its act together and pass the DREAM Act. President Trump rescinded DACA last fall, allowing it to fully expire on March 5. Now, he’s sabotaged the fragile effort to help the Dreamers who are left in limbo with a looming deadline after which they may face a risk of deportation. But even that’s in doubt given that the DACA repeal is under federal court review so that, technically, DACA policies are still frozen in place.
Confused? Wait, it gets worse. The House is expected to take up the issue later this month, and they are likely to throw in some monkey wrenches of their own with less protection for DACA recipients. Meanwhile, the only solution we’ve heard likely to win Democratic votes is the one advanced by Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake who would extend DACA for three years while granting $7.6 billion for border security, a short-term patch that gives both sides a small win while giving assurances to Dreamers that no matter how the courts rule, they are safe for the next 36 months. Would the House go along? Perhaps if President Trump got behind it, which, given his actions of late, doesn’t appear likely. Rather, he seems to like falsely proclaiming immigrants to be a national security threat or a costly drag on the economy when they are nothing of the sort, all to appeal to his right-wing base. It was this president who targeted Dreamers, now he’s keeping them living in fear for political advantage. Where is that “bill of love” guy when you really need him?