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Michael Swartz / May 25, 2018

Immigration Is Becoming a November Issue

Moderate House Republicans are trying to force a vote on legalizing "dreamers."

Since the election of President Donald Trump, his hard-line campaign stance on immigration has, at times, softened to the point where supporters feared a disillusioning compromise on the issue. But a recent White House meeting at which Trump compared members of the notorious MS-13 gang to “animals,” adding, “We’re taking them out of the country at a rate that’s never happened before,” has rekindled the immigration debate and placed the president back on the strong side. He tripled down on the “animals” comment just to make sure.

Yet plenty of members of Congress resent Trump for having ended Barack Obama’s unconstitutional DACA program for so-called “dreamers” — which Obama had implemented by executive fiat. That fiat achieved for many congressmen what they wanted without having to take a difficult vote on it. Now, led by moderate Republicans holding seats considered vulnerable, a seldom-used House discharge petition has brought us to the precipice of a large-scale amnesty.

Assuming all 193 Democrats sign the petition, the 20 Republicans who have already done so need to convince just five more among their number to force an up-or-down vote on a measure that could give an eventual amnesty to this group of illegals. It’s a prospect that reportedly makes House Speaker Paul Ryan nervous, as Leftmedia outlets dream that an immigration showdown could cost the GOP control of the chamber.

Before media dreamers get ahead of themselves, though, there are a few Democrats who may not sign the discharge petition for reasons of their own. Worried that any Republican-sponsored immigration bill will also allow for the border fence President Trump wants to build, three border-state Democrats are balking. “I want to help the dreamers,” said Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, “but my issue is, you can’t just say, ‘Build a wall.’” His reluctance is echoed by fellow Texas Democrats Vincente Gonzalez and Filomon Vela, who also represent districts near the Mexican border.

The end result of this struggle may not be a change in the House leadership, but there is a different calculation for each of its 435 members. Hardline border hawks are dead-set against the idea of the discharge petition, and their resistance to leadership derailed a much-anticipated farm bill last week. Passage of a bill allowing for amnesty would “depress anybody who feels like the Republican Party needs to be strong on immigration,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, leader of the House’s Freedom Caucus. Meadows and his cohorts would prefer a bill that would only allow the dreamers three-year renewable reprieves with no path to citizenship.

On the other hand, GOP moderates and business-friendly representatives are more inclined to back a bill that would be part of a broader compromise. Writer Jazz Shaw notes, “If we have to forge a compromise and can keep the number down to somewhere between 800K and a million who all arrived here as children during a specific period, we’re still splitting the loaf far more toward our end of things.”

Yet depending on how far they can push off the promises they’re all but certain to break, Democrats would be ecstatic with reestablishing a precedent that Simpson-Mazzoli started in 1986, when their party pledged that the millions of illegal immigrants covered under the law would be the last ones given amnesty — at least until they could badger Republicans into doing the same thing again.

But there’s a second consideration at work for Democrats, who, it should be noted, could have addressed the issue to their satisfaction a decade ago when they had the majority in both houses of Congress and a president willing to sign whatever was placed in front of him. To them, it seems immigration is a better issue when it’s unsolved and can be used both to rev up support among their constituent groups in the Latino community and as a cudgel against “racist” Republicans.

With so many moving parts and the potential for a deal-breaker to pop up out of nowhere, few expect the situation to be resolved before the midterms this November. In the meantime, though, talk of amnesty will provide plenty of rhetoric for campaign ads on all sides.

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