By No Labels
When Congress passed its 600-page budget bill last week, it addressed disaster relief, infrastructure, children’s health insurance, two years of government spending and a great deal more. But immigration policy was not in the mix.
After months of argument and negotiation—even a government shutdown—President Trump and Congress could not come to an agreement on border security, visa policy and the fate of roughly 800,000 “Dreamers” possibly facing deportation in March.
What happens now? Immigration is likely to stay in the spotlight as lawmakers debate the issue this week. Here’s what you need to know.
Because immigration policy is no longer tied to the budget, or any “must pass” legislation, those pushing policy changes will have less leverage. Moreover, Trump’s plan to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protecting Dreamers from deportation has been stayed by a federal court, putting the March deadline in question. Overall, the sense of urgency for Congress to act may be diminished.
Whatever happens in Congress will be influenced by the “four pillars” Trump laid out in his State of the Union speech last month. He has called for a path to citizenship for Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. He also wants heavy investment in border security, including a physical wall; an end to the visa lottery, in favor of a merit-based approach; and an end to family unification, which allows immigrants to sponsor family members for citizenship.
The administration also recently floated a plan that would do all of this, plus clear a backlog of roughly four million sponsored relatives, the Los Angeles Times reported. They claim the result would be to effectively freeze immigration at current levels (about 1.1 million people a year) for the next decade. Whether that plan will be embraced remains to be seen.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised a Senate debate on immigration , and he has taken the unusual step of allowing lawmakers to start the policy debate from scratch. Rather than starting with a base bill and amending it, lawmakers will build the immigration plan by voting on individual policy initiatives. The strategy promises a full debate. But the Republican majority is thin in the Senate, meaning a bill will require Democratic support to gain approval. Even if the Senate can pass a bill, there is no guarantee that the House will act on it.
Speaker Paul Ryan has promised action on immigration in the House, but it is unclear what the strategy and policy focus will be. Republicans have a stronger majority in the House, and a Senate bill designed to gain bipartisan support could alienate conservatives. Moreover, conservative lawmakers have their own agenda for immigration changes. Last week, the Problem Solvers Caucus wrote a letter to Speaker Ryan challenging him to commit to a free and open immigration debate that would include votes on several bipartisan proposals. Specifically, the Caucus asked Ryan for the debate to be guided by “Queen of the Hill” rules, in which any immigration proposal receiving the most votes from the entire House would pass, even if it did not garner majority support from House Republicans.
Overall, it is unclear whether Congress can pass something that makes all parties happy.
Many lawmakers in both chambers have created immigration proposals with bipartisan appeal. The House Problem Solvers Caucus, for example, introduced a proposal to address Dreamers, fund border security, end the visa lottery and address family unification. Whether these plans get any traction remains to be seen. They may be a tougher sale in the House than in the Senate.
Both Republicans and Democrats will very likely be campaigning on immigration. Republicans will press for additional border security. Democrats will champion protections for Dreamers. It remains to be seen whether the desire for effective campaign messaging will lower the appetite for an immigration bill.