Bob Daemmrich for the Texas Tribune
The day after President Donald Trump released a list of immigration issues that must be negotiated before he’ll consider legislation that protects young undocumented immigrants, one of the country’s largest immigrant advocacy groups criticized it as a ransom note that places hundreds of thousands of people at risk.
In a surprise announcement Sunday night, the White House declared that it wouldn’t move forward with a legal remedy for so-called Dreamers unless it also includes increased interior enforcement of undocumented immigrants, funding for a border wall and a mandate for businesses to use E-Verify, a federal service that allows employers to screen to ensure job applicants are legally allowed to work in the country.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders in Congress said Monday that any deal that uses immigrants as a bargaining chip is “dead on arrival.”
The White House announcement came just three days after a deadline for tens of thousands of eligible applicants to renew their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status. The administration announced last month it was phasing out the Obama-era program that has shielded about 800,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation. That figure includes about 124,000 Texans. At the time, Trump told Congress it had six months to find a legislative solution to the end of DACA.
“Holding immigrant youth like my sister and I hostage unless the rest of the country buys into a racist mass deportation agenda is immoral and disgusting,” said Greisa Martinez Rosas, the advocacy director at United We Dream and a DACA beneficiary. “The immigrant youth of United We Dream are calling for a clean Dream Act because we know we are in a life and death moment.”
Democrats are furious that after Trump stated he was sympathetic to Dreamers – young undocumented immigrants who came to the country illegally as children – he has now tied their fates to policies they argue would jeopardize the entire country.
“[This proposal] is a non-starter in Congress,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said during a conference call with reporters Monday morning. “It’s dead on arrival. We’ve said clearly that we’re not going to trade the futures of 800,000 young people for a wall across America yet that’s one of the centerpieces of the White House’s proposal.”
Castro said the administration’s approach on immigration and other issues is why Congress has failed to pass anything meaningful this year. “They don’t seem to be able to work with anyone,” he said. “I would suggest that president look over the proposals himself and get more personally involved.”
For some conservatives, the announcement means the President has reverted back to the agenda he campaigned on after suggesting last month he was willing to make a deal on immigration with Democrats. The White House also included on its list of policy demands new limits on legal migration, an overhaul of the current asylum process and a ban on “sanctuary” cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials.
“The administration’s detailed plan to regain control of the nation’s dysfunctional immigration enforcement policies while moving our legal immigration system to a merit-based model that includes a return to more traditional levels of immigration is an enormous win for American workers, national security and the nation as a whole,” Dan Stein, the president of the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform, said in a statement. Just last month, Stein had said the GOP had “yet to demonstrate any real commitment to the policy goals laid out by the president.”
Proponents of DACA argue that the program rewards young people who didn’t have a choice but to emigrate illegally as youths but who have since started businesses, finished school and become American by all measurements except for a piece of paper. They argue that ending DACA without a similar replacement will be detrimental for the American economy. According to the progressive Center for American Progress, Texas could stand to lose $6.3 billion annually in gross domestic product if the DACA recipients who entered the workforce were removed. It’s the second highest total behind California.
But Stein’s FAIR said that illegal immigration costs states more than what undocumented immigrants contribute to the economy. According to FAIR’s numbers, illegal immigration costs Texans about $11 billion due to the costs incurred for public education, incarceration, courts and infrastructure.
The White House’s latest push for its immigration priorities could provide momentum for Trump’s promised border wall on the southern border. Just last week the U.S House Homeland Security Committee passed legislation that would appropriate $10 billion for the wall. The author of the bill, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said the effort was one step toward securing the border. But he accepted an amendment that would remove construction as an option on parts of the border where natural barriers or terrain render it ineffective.
The administration’s move toward tougher enforcement could also revive the debate over E-Verify in Texas. The program, which is administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, screens for undocumented or ineligible workers by scrutinizing the information applicants submit to employers. The Texas Legislature has passed some E-Verify legislation in recent sessions, but it only applies to state agencies and the companies they contract with. Even with Republicans in control in Austin, legislation that would expand the requirement for all private entities has never gained traction at the state level.
Republicans have said that’s due to their belief in limited government, but Democrats balk at that notion, insisting the real reason is because business leaders realize an E-Verify expansion would cripple the state’s economy. But the effort could get a push on the national level from a key lawmaker. U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, filed the Legal Workforce Act last month. The bill would expand E-Verify requirements for all new hires in order to help save jobs for American citizens, he said when he introduced the bill.
“Nearly 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed,” he said. “Meanwhile, seven million people are working in the United States illegally. By expanding the E-Verify system to all U.S. employers, this bill will ensure that jobs only go to legal workers.”
Though he’s sworn off compromising on any of the listed proposals, Castro added Monday that he’s open to talking to the White House under reasonable circumstances. What the Trump Administration put out on Sunday, he said, wasn’t an honest effort.
“We believe that there is still as an opportunity to come to an agreement, but the White House and the president have to be reasonable,” he said. “If we’re looking for a serious proposal to come from President Trump, this was not serious.”