WASHINGTON – The White House will formally roll out President Donald Trump’s long-anticipated immigration reform package Thursday, the latest in a myriad of proposals that have sought to overhaul the nation’s outdated immigration laws
The plan, spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, shares something in common with those other proposals: It, too, appears doomed.
“From what we’ve seen and heard about the plan and what has been reported on it, I think for now it has very little chance of passing,” said Chris Chmielenski, deputy director of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for lower levels of legal and illegal immigration.
History shows us why.
President Ronald Reagan signed a sweeping immigration deal into law in 1986 that allowed 3 million undocumented immigrants to become citizens but never fulfilled its promise of securing the border.
Since then, there have been several times when an immigration plan that could win the support of Republicans and Democrats in Congress seemed close at hand. But negotiations ultimately ended in failure and finger-pointing.
Trump’s plan is designed to create a point system for people seeking to enter the U.S. – touching on Trump’s longstanding argument that high-skilled immigrants should be prioritized – and eliminate the current system of legal immigration. It does not offer a prescription for dealing with illegal immigration.
Here’s a look at how past immigration and border security talks have played out.
President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who also serves as presidential senior adviser. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)
‘Gang of Eight’ effort falls short
In 2013, a bipartisan group of four Democratic and four Republicans senators known as the “Gang of Eight” hammered out a deal that would have provided a 13-year path to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., including the roughly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children – a group referred to as “Dreamers” – if they passed certain security checks.
In exchange, the deal would have doubled the number of Border Patrol agents to nearly 40,000 and committed billions of dollars for drones and other “smart technology” to better monitor the nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico.
The deal also included a provision to begin fingerprinting all foreigners departing U.S. airports to better track who has left the country and who has stayed past the expiration of their visas, and one to increase the number of work visas for foreigners in the agricultural industry. A new class of visa would be created to bring in people to work lower-skilled jobs in construction, retail, hospitality and insurance.
Something for everyone, in essence.
The measure, with the backing of President Barack Obama, passed the Senate overwhelmingly: 68 to 32. But it never got a vote in the Republican-controlled House because hard-line conservatives pressured GOP Speaker John Boehner not to bring it up.
Little appetite for revival
Six of the eight senators are still on Capitol Hill: Democrats Chuck Schumer of New York, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida.
But some of them don’t sound like they’re ready to make a deal any time soon.
Graham has urged Trump not to cave on wall funding. Schumer, now the Senate minority leader, is walking lockstep with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in opposition to a wall. And Rubio, a Cuban-American whose role in the deal cost him support among the GOP base during his 2016 presidential run, has said Republicans shouldn’t be “trading border security because it’s something we’re all for.”
Theresa Cardinal Brown, an immigration expert at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, believes there’s a road map to shore up border security and protect Dreamers and immigrants under Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
That program has granted deportation protections and work permits to more than 300,000 foreigners whose home countries were ravaged by natural disasters or armed conflicts, but the Trump administration has been trying to end those protections.
A deal like the one Brown thinks is possible would include more Border Patrol agents at ports of entry, enhanced surveillance across the border and “physical barriers in appropriate sectors” as carrots for GOP support. In turn, Dreamers and TPS Holders would receive immediate protection from deportation and be given a path to a green card – and ultimately citizenship – after meeting conditions such as work, study or service.
Past efforts left bad feelings
Previous attempts to tackle immigration reform indicate it won’t be easy this time either.
The 1986 deal signed by Reagan sought to broadly address rising immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Like the reform efforts that have failed since then, it included increased border security, punishment for employers hiring undocumented workers and a path to legal status for those already in the country illegally. About 2.7 million immigrants were awarded green cards because of the law but another 2 million undocumented people were either ineligible or never applied, according to The Washington Post.
The last major immigration legislation to make it into law were the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, both passed by a GOP Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton.
The first blocked immigrants (both legal and illegal) from getting food stamps and other public benefits. The second toughened penalties for undocumented immigrants, expanded the number of crimes that could be used to deport immigrants, further restricted public benefits to legal immigrants, increased the number of Border Patrol agents and established the program that lets local police double as federal immigration-enforcement officers.
Some benefits were later restored to legal immigrants. Although the laws were aimed at removing some of the incentives to migrate to the U.S. and to tighten the border, the number of people crossing into the country illegally continued to climb.
President George W. Bush (Photo: Mark Wilson, Getty Images)
Bush promoted an immigration deal
President George W. Bush began discussions with Mexican President Vicente Fox about a possible accord on migration shortly after taking office in 2001, but those talks were put on hold after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In his second term, Bush put his weight behind a push for comprehensive immigration reform with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate.
The House passed a bill in December 2005 that expanded border security and toughened immigration laws, making many violations felonies, sparking massive protests across the country. The Senate countered with a measure, spearheaded by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., to beef up border security but also include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and an expanded guest worker program.
It withered when the House and Senate failed to form a conference committee to meld the measures together.
The effort was rekindled after Democrats took control of the Senate in 2007. With Bush’s encouragement, a bipartisan “Gang of 12” senators worked to craft a comprehensive immigration deal.
The compromise made employers’ enrollment in the E-Verify system mandatory, increased the penalties for companies with a history of employing undocumented workers, added thousands of border agents and customs inspectors, approved “not less than 370 miles of triple-layered fencing,” toughened the laws for people evading immigration officials or using fake documents, enhanced technology to detect border crossings, expanded the guest worker program, and included a path to citizenship.
Reform derided as ‘amnesty’
But that effort fell short of the needed 60 Senate votes to overcome a filibuster as more than a dozen Democrats voted with Republicans opposed to a path to citizenship.
Creating a process for undocumented migrants living in the U.S. to become legal residents was derided as “amnesty” by opponents to the measure like Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La. Some unions decried the guest worker program as a way to secure cheap labor, while immigration activists opposed a part of the bill that reduced the family members of legal migrants who are eligible for preferred immigration status.
“A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn’t find common ground,” Bush said after the bill failed for the final time in the Senate in June 2007. “It didn’t work.”
Then last year, Trump and Senate Democrats seemed to be closing in on a deal to fund the wall in exchange for legal protections for Dreamers.
The deal never materialized with both sides accusing the other of not negotiating in good faith.
“The wall offer is off the table,” Schumer told reporters after talks broke down. “That was part of a package” that’s now defunct.
Trump responded publicly by tweeting that “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer fully understands, especially after his humiliating defeat, that if there is no Wall, there is no DACA.”
Migrants not slowing down
Trump has tried to use nearly every tool at his disposal to slow the flood of asylum-seeking migrants pouring across the southern border.
He’s deployed thousands of National Guardsmen and active-duty military troops. He’s tried to threaten and punish countries south of the border, threatening to seal off the southern border with Mexico and cutting off $450 million in aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, the countries where most migrants are coming from.
And his executive branch agencies have tried many ways to limit or cut off asylum, from the “zero tolerance” policy that led to more than 2,800 family separations to forcing Central American asylum-seekers to return to Mexico to await the outcome of their cases.
But those moves have backfired on the president in record-setting ways. Rather than slow the pace of migrants, their numbers only continue to increase.
The number of migrants apprehended crossing the southern border has risen every month in 2019, according to Customs and Border Protection data. The Border Patrol has apprehended more than 90,000 people each of the past two months, the first time that’s happened since 2007. And the 58,474 members of family units apprehended in April represented an all-time high along the southern border.
Those numbers have overwhelmed the federal government. Border Patrol facilities can house about 13,500 people a day, and officials say they are receiving far more than that. That prompted the agency to start building tent cities in Yuma, Ariz., and two locations in Texas – near the western city of El Paso and the eastern Rio Grande Valley.
Even that hasn’t been enough. The agency recently started dumping hundreds of migrants in the middle of border cities. Some are dropped off at Greyhound stations to find a bus ride to their families in the U.S., while others are being taken in by churches and humanitarian groups.
Pro-immigration demonstrators in Los Angeles. (Photo: Reed Saxon/AP)
Judges limit Trump
Part of the reason those numbers have continued increasing is that federal judges have blocked some of the most extreme efforts by the Trump administration to unilaterally cut off asylum.
In June, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions barred victims of domestic abuse and gang violence from applying for asylum. That decision was blocked by a federal judge.
In November, the departments of Justice and Homeland Security issued new rules that barred migrants who entered the U.S. illegally from applying for asylum. That decision also was blocked by a federal judge.
In December, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announced a plan barring Central American asylum seekers from entering the U.S. and ordering them to remain in Mexico while their cases are decided. That was initially blocked by a federal judge but has been reinstated by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
In April, Attorney General William Barr issued a new directive forcing asylum-seekers to remain in U.S. immigration detention until their cases are decided. That plan won’t go into effect until July but is already facing a federal lawsuit.
Also in April, Trump ordered his departments of Justice and Homeland Security to come up with sweeping new rules that would make it more difficult, and more expensive, for asylum seekers to get refuge in the U.S. The rules would, for the first time, require asylum seekers to pay an application fee, deny work permits for asylum seekers who enter the country illegally and require government officials to fast-track new asylum hearings to complete them within 180 days.
Whatever those rules end up looking like, they will likely be challenged in court.
Contributing: David Jackson, John Fritze
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