With a tax bill complete, Republicans in Congress are turning their attention back to immigration.
Specifically, an ad hoc House GOP working group that includes Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, has finished developing a list of immigration reforms Republicans would want addressed in exchange for allowing people brought illegally into the U.S. as children to remain here. House Speaker Paul Ryan charged the group in September with finding a way to solve the latter problem that the broader GOP could support. Its members presented their plan Tuesday to President Donald Trump.
The proposal includes ending chain and visa lottery immigration, increasing border security (including Trump’s long-sought border wall) and tightening enforcement.
If those measures pass, Labrador said, then the nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will get to stay under a non-immigrant status. The Obama administration program was intended as a stopgap until legislation permanently addressed those immigrants’ fates; so far, that hasn’t happened. Meanwhile, conservatives argued the DACA program was a presidential overreach. Trump in September announced he would end it, but delayed that end until March to encourage Congress to solve the problem itself.
“What we are trying to do is help President Trump keep his promise to the American people,” said Labrador, who chairs the House Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee. “If it were to pass, it would strengthen our borders, strengthen our interior enforcement and it would completely change the way that we bring people to the United States.”
And what did Trump think of the plan?
“He loved it. It is exactly the plan that he wants,” Labrador said. “He will not be happy if the final plan deviates from this plan. Anything that deviates from this plan, I believe I can safely say, he is willing to veto.”
The proposal has three components:
▪ Reform of legal immigration policies: End chain migration, in which immigrants are allowed to bring additional family members into the country, and the diversity visa program, an immigrant visa awarded by lottery. Create an agricultural guest worker program, a measure long sought by Idaho’s agricultural industry. Improve the visa security program, including additional ICE agents at high-risk embassies overseas to ensure thorough vetting of people coming to the U.S.
“Only 13 percent of the people that came into the U.S. came in on merit,” Labrador said. “The rest were chain migration, diversity visa or something else. That is not the proper immigration system for our century.”
▪ Border security: Funding for Trump’s border wall. Make other improvements to border security, and further secure U.S. ports of entry. Increase border security personnel and the use of the National Guard.
▪ Interior enforcement: Require all employers to use the federal E-Verify system when hiring workers. (E-Verify lets employers compare workers’ employment eligibility forms with Social Security and other records to make sure the information matches. Idaho requires only state government agencies to use the system, which is free.) Crack down on “sanctuary” cities that refuse to work with federal immigration law enforcement. Reduce asylum fraud, in which applicants lie about being persecuted in their homeland. Criminalize overstaying your visa, and no longer take in unaccompanied minors who cross the border.
“Of the people here illegally in the United States, approximately 60 percent entered illegally, so they violated the law when they entered,” Labrador said. “Forty percent of them, and the classic example is the people who attacked us on Sept. 11, they entered legally but they overstayed their visa. This bill would make it a crime to overstay your visa.”
Other immigration-related programs and issues, including refugees, guest workers and merit-based criteria, are not addressed in this legislation. But they will be addressed later on, Labrador said.
“If we can get these things, then we are willing to vote on keeping the people that are in the existing DACA program, creating a program for legalizing them,” he said.
The plan includes granting DACA recipients non-immigrant status without giving them a unique route to gain citizenship. “That is the key,” Labrador said. “Not creating a special pathway to citizenship for these individuals.”
Idaho had at least 3,132 DACA recipients as of March 2017, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The proposal’s specifics are still being worked out, and further details on some aspects were not yet available. But now that its elements are in place, drafting legislation is next, followed by “getting all disparate groups in House and Senate on the same page,” Labrador said.
And, there are the Democrats. The minority party has been pushing for a DACA solution by the end of the year. But some Democrats have argued against hinging DACA protections on other border or immigration reforms. Among the previous visitors to Trump’s office this fall to talk immigration were minority leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, who in September said they had reached a deal with him to resolve the DACA problem. They and the White House differed later over claims that Trump was willing to exclude his border wall from any solution.
“This is a very sticky issue. This is a very difficult issue. It is a difficult policy,” Labrador said. “Just understanding all of the ramifications of immigration law is one of the most difficult things we do in Congress.”
And, he said, the House plan is the best path forward.
“The president told us he wanted us to do something by March of next year. He is willing to do something for the kids that are on DACA,” he said. “These are things we need in order for us to vote for something like that to happen.”