President Trump and Democratic Party leaders in Congress say they are closing in on a deal that would have Congress enshrining the legal status of illegal immigrants who came here as children in exchange for what Trump calls “massive border security,” but a leading immigration activist thinks the president is getting snookered.
“I’m afraid the president is getting rolled,” said Center for Immigration Studies Executive Director Mark Krikorian. “He simply let (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer set the terms of this debate.”
Trump met with Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Wednesday night at the White House to discuss the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Following the meeting, Schumer and Pelosi released a statement suggesting a deal was done to approve legislation to give young people here illegally and enrolled in the program permanent legal status.
Trump later tweeted that there was not a done deal and all later said the details still needed to be worked out on border security, although the Democrats reiterated that they would not approve funding to build a wall on the southern border.
Krikorian says Schumer has the upper hand in this debate, as he’s been immersed in it for decades.
“Chuck Schumer has been doing immigration for 30 years. He was responsible for the 1986 amnesty, the last push to get it over. He was in the House of Representatives then,” said Krikorian. “He was the motivating force behind the Gang of Eight that passed the Senate.”
Krikorian says Trump is not well-versed at all in immigration policy and he can see Schumer winning Trump over in the language Trump is now using.
“President Trump doesn’t know anything about the immigration issue. So Schumer tells him, ‘This wouldn’t be an amnesty, Mr. President, because they wouldn’t get citizenship.’ Trump just mouths those cliches that we have been hearing now for years that are straight out false,” said Krikorian.
“The president has no idea about any of this stuff. I am happy to stipulate that he is good at real estate deals. That may well be the case. But dealing with mob and labor bosses and crooked building inspectors, those guys are much more reliable negotiating partners than Chuck Schumer. The president is like a babe in the woods. He’s getting taken for a ride,” said Krikorian.
Krikorian suspects the challenge for Trump is getting even steeper given the myriad of staff changes that leave very few immigration hawks in the White House.
“Everybody with a position of authority is either a liberal Democrat or is a non-political retired general who really don’t have strong political views. They just want to see things fixed and work better. And that’s a recipe for the president alienating himself from his base,” said Krikorian.
He says Trump and everyone else in the debate needs to see that granting permanent legal status to young illegal immigrants enrolled in DACA amounts to amnesty and they must proceed accordingly.
“Every amnesty – and that’s what this is is an amnesty, if you let illegals stay that’s an amnesty – every one always draws new illegal immigration into the country and then causes a surge of legal immigration down the stream as their relatives come in,” said Krikorian.
Krikorian believes Obama’s creation of DACA through the executive branch in 2012 was blatantly illegal, but he says that’s not the fault of the people who enrolled and the humanitarian thing to do is to make good on that promise.
However, he says only those actually enrolled in DACA, and not all illegal immigrants brought here as young children, should be considered for the legislation. He also urges businesses to use the E-Verify system to check the immigration status of job applicants and for the government to crack down on employers who knowingly hire people in the U.S. illegally.
Krikorian urges Trump to use this moment to make tough demands of Democrats in exchange for relenting on DACA.
“What kind of provisions do you include in a bill like that to make sure that an amnesty that may be 700,000 or 800,000 people doesn’t do more harm than good,” said Krikorian.
He strongly encourages Trump and congressional Republicans to insist that portions of the RAISE Act be included in any bill. In addition to favoring prospective immigrants with college educations and the ability to provide for themselves, the legislation would also tighten which family members could later be brought in by immigrants.
Krikorian says giving DACA enrollees the ability to confer legal status on their parents must be prevented.
“Their parents knew what they were doing when they came here. They weren’t children. They don’t deserve the benefit from this amnesty, so what we need is to change the family immigration system so that it only focuses on husbands, wives, and little kids and not all these other adult relative categories we have now,” said Krikorian.
And he says all of this must be included in the same legislation as the enactment of DACA or the Democrats will win everything they want in exchange for nothing.
“It absolutely has to be in one piece. If they get everything they want then it’ll be just like 1986, where they got their amnesty first and the enforcement never happened,” said Krikorian.