Along with tax reform, the debt ceiling, spending bills, and maybe another crack at health care legislation, Congress also has the chance to address immigration policy, and a leading advocate of tougher immigration standards says compromises can be made so long as the most important elements wind up in the final bill.
Center for Immigration Reform Research Director Steven Camarota says President Trump has already improved our homeland security and positioned the country better for reform simply by enforcing the laws on the books.
“Having Trump in there, whatever else you may think of him, he’s pushing enforcement. He’s going after illegal immigrants and those who are criminal aliens. He’s trying to increase work site enforcement and get the cooperation of local law enforcement. All of that makes sense and that’s a very big deal,” said Camarota.
But he says enforcement of current laws only goes so far.
“It doesn’t do that much to address the overall issue of numbers. How many people can we assimilate? What is the absorption capacity of America’s physical infrastructure? What is the absorption capacity of schools? That’s why numbers all matter so much,” said Camarota.
“Unless we start bringing the legal numbers, which are enormous and account for three-fourth’s of all immigrants, we’re not going to deal with many of the problems the country faces stemming from immigration,” said Camarota.
Earlier this summer, President Trump introduced the RAISE Act, which most notably lower levels of legal immigration and also require immigrants to be able to support themselves financially and be proficient in English.
A quick head count of the Senate shows that bill essentially dead on arrival. In addition to most or all Democrats lining up against the legislation, several Republicans are also balking at it, including members of the 2013 Gang of Eight, such as John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
But Camarota believes a good bill can still get done and he is willing to offer a major priority of Democrats as enticement.
“One of the ways it might pass is if it were part of a compromise that gave some kind of legal status to those illegal immigrants who came at young ages in return for the provisions of the RAISE Act. These are the people currently covered by the program called DACA (often called ‘Dreamers’),” said Camarota.
But Camarota was very clear about what he believes needs to be in the bill.
“Obviously, (we need) enforcement, controlling the border, going after the employers who hire people who are illegally here, and an entry-exit system that records the arrival and departure of people,” said Camarota.
“Foreigners come into the United States 200 million times or more a year on a time-limited basis. That means they have a temporary visa, a tourist, a guest worker, a foreign student. We don’t keep track of the time we’re here, so we don’t know if the time limit has been honored,” said Camarota.
Camarota would also like to see a much stricter definition of family members who can be allowed in, primarily limiting the option to spouses and dependent children.
However, he also says the benefits of immigration to the immigrant, and not just the nation, ought to considered.
“I realize that the immigrants themselves may benefit by coming here and maybe that’s something to think about. Maybe that’s why we should continue to have a reasonable pace of immigration. But it doesn’t, to my mind, justify, the enormous amount of legal immigration, nor does it justify tolerating illegal immigration,” said Camarota.
The immigration issue is a political tinder box right now. The debates over the Trump travel bans grew very intense that will likely spill over into this struggle. Camarota says Trump brings good and bad qualities into this debate.
“To his credit, Trump has at least been willing to address some of the big issues. Not to his credit, he has not done so in a careful and sensitive way and he’s contributed in that way to polarization,” said Camarota.
But he says it’s not just Trump who has to take a more sober look at this debate.
“Careful, intelligent, fact-based discourse is hard for most people and a polarized environment makes it harder,” said Camarota.