By Andrew Soboeiro
Ever since President Trump revoked DACA, American citizens of all political stripes have been waiting to see what he and Congress will replace it with. While many plans have been proposed in the House and Senate, not one has yet emerged with enough support to pass. Meanwhile, Trump has mostly made vague claims about his desire for increased immigration enforcement, interspersed with declarations of empathy for DACA participants.
At long last, the Trump Administration has given some indication of its intentions for DACA and related policies. The White House has announced a “framework” on immigration, which offers legal status to current and potential DACA participants in exchange for dramatic changes to immigration practices. As more details are released, it is becoming clear that advocates for immigrants face a difficult choice over whether to support this framework.
The President’s Proposal
Based on Trump’s statements during his State of the Union address and other reports on this framework, the Administration is proposing:
- Increased Border Security: The framework contains a number of steps designed to secure the border, chief among them that $25 billion be reserved for the construction of a wall. It also calls for giving Border Patrol officials the power to summarily deport unaccompanied children who aren’t from Mexico, as well as for eliminating the practice of releasing undocumented immigrants from custody while they are waiting for a hearing.
- Eliminating Categories for Family-Based Immigration: President Trump wants to minimize family-based immigration, which he refers to as "chain migration." Specifically, the Trump Administration proposes to eliminate legal immigrants' ability to sponsor siblings, parents, or adult children. This would likely involve altering the F3 and F4 immigrant visa programs, which currently issue approximately 90,000 visas per year. It is unclear what the Administration would replace these visas with, or how it would deal with the massive backlogs in applications for them.
- Eliminating Diversity Visas: The framework involves eliminating the “diversity” visa program, which assigns 50,000 visas a year to qualifying immigrants from countries that send relatively few people to the United States. This would be to make it harder to move to the United States from most African countries.
- Recognizing Dreamers: The Administration proposes giving legal status to 1.8 million people, including all current DACA participants as well as other immigrants who qualify for the program but did not apply. These individuals would have the opportunity to gain US citizenship over a period of 10 to 12 years.
It is unclear whether a bill based on this framework could pass Congress. Anti-immigration hardliners like Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) would likely object to offering such a large number of people legal status. Nonetheless, given the powerful role the President plays in both signing and enforcing immigration policy, this framework will strongly influence the immigration debate going forward. Immigrants and their advocates should thus consider whether it is a worthwhile deal.
A Hard Choice for Advocates
For those concerned about immigrant rights, the Trump Administration’s framework represents a difficult choice. On the one hand, the chance to protect 1.8 million young immigrants from deportation is no small matter. This is far more than the 690,000 currently protected under DACA. Any deal that protects so many people is worth considering.
As incredible as this opportunity is, it comes at an exorbitant cost. In particular, allowing Border Patrol agents to summarily deport unaccompanied children could create a humanitarian catastrophe, especially given that many of those children are fleeing horrific violence in Central America. Meanwhile, eliminating or scaling back F3 and F4 visas could break up families. It may also create serious administrative issues, especially if the programs’ backlogs are not dealt with carefully. Finally, eliminating the diversity visa program could be seen as motivated by prejudice against African nations and peoples, especially after the President recently described those nations as “shithole countries.” It doesn’t help that Trump’s purported motivation for eliminating the program, which is that it has no skill requirements, is demonstrably false. Likewise, he claimed that a recent terror attack was committed by people on diversity visas, which is true, but he ignored the fact that those terrorists weren’t radicalized until after they arrived in the US.
Ultimately, it is not clear what the right answer is for immigration activists. This deal has horrific implications, but its promise of legal status to 1.8 million Dreamers is almost certainly better than any other offer the Trump Administration might make. As the debate continues and we get a better idea of what might pass Congress, immigrants and their advocates must weigh carefully whether a deal like this is worth supporting.