Trump should stand up to liberals, Republicans alike to win on immigration

On May 24, seven short weeks ago, the Davis-Oliver comprehensive immigration enforcement bill, H.R.2431, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee with all 19 Republicans supporting it and all 13 Democrats opposed. Yet when it came time to bring the bill to the floor, Republican leadership pushed the bill aside in favor of two less powerful immigration bills.

The celebrations over House passage of those two bills – “Kate’s Law” and the “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” – are premature, not because they face a difficult path to success in the Senate but because they probably signal Republican abandonment of a true immigration reform agenda.

The Davis-Oliver bill was the first immigration bill reported unanimously by a House committee since Trump’s arrival in the White House. Among other measures, the legislation would withhold federal grants from so-called sanctuary cities; eliminate the ability of any future president to unilaterally suspend enforcement of immigration laws; and clarify the Department of Homeland Security’s power to prevent sanctuary cities from releasing dangerous criminal aliens back on the streets.

{mosads}Even Speaker Paul Ryan announced his support for the bill. So, the sudden abandonment of that comprehensive immigration interior enforcement bill in favor of two more narrow bills is highly suspicious and deeply disappointing. “Kate’s Law” (H.R.1304) and the “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” (H.R. 1303) are both very good bills that would enact components of Davis-Oliver, but neither would be nearly as comprehensive.


What’s going on here? There appears to have been a decision in the White House to go for a “quick victory” with the two narrow bills and postpone a floor vote on the Davis-Oliver bill. The problem with this strategy is obvious: if these two good bills somehow manage to garner the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate, it is almost guaranteed that their enactment will prove to be the ONLY immigration victory we see this Congress.

I believe that Trump advisers and the congressional sponsors who think that Kate’s Law and the anti-sanctuary bill are only the opening volley on a wide 2017 battlefield are whistling past the graveyard. House Republican leaders will never find the “right moment” to bring the Davis-Oliver bill to a vote on the floor.

According to one recent report, my friend and immigration enforcement champion Rep. Steve King believes (R-Iowa), “The White House still wants” the Davis-Oliver bill as well. That’s good news and I am sure it is true as far as it goes. But the real question is not what the White House “wants” but what the President is willing to fight for.

The problem with the White House’s “baby steps first” strategy is that, politically speaking, it is very naive and doomed to failure. Why do I say that? First, a new president whose election was framed by the immigration issue but who chooses not to make major immigration legislation a top priority in his first year will probably not do so in his second or third year. This is especially so when House Republican leadership has no stomach for legislation that the Chamber of Chamber of Commerce doesn’t support, to say nothing of other swamp creatures on K Street.

And so, regretfully, I cannot join the champagne celebrations underway over the House’s passage of two good bills. Their passage actually signals a policy surrender artfully disguised as a victory. Consider: When your car is up on blocks and needs a new engine, do you celebrate the mechanic installing four new tires? Maybe it looks better, but it’s still not going anywhere. Neither is the White House promise of a real immigration enforcement overhaul “down the road.”

Kate’s Law and the Department of Justice-endorsed anti-sanctuary bill are both excellent bills; they should be enacted into law. But in political terms, those floor votes give political cover to a Republican leadership that will continue to delay and obstruct forward action on more important immigration legislation. The Davis-Oliver bill includes such essential immigration enforcement measures as mandatory E-Verify for employers and other needed reforms that have one thing in common: they can only be enacted through active presidential leadership, not lip service.

The lack of urgency attached to immigration legislation by the Trump White House is quite astonishing considering the prominence of the detailed proposals and campaign promises which made headlines throughout the 2016 campaign. Yes, Trump deserves praise for doing several early executive orders, but by definition they are purely administrative actions and can be revoked or amended by any future president. Essential reforms require new legislation, not new executive orders.

As a member of Congress and chairman of the 100-member Immigration Reform Caucus under two pro-amnesty presidents, I saw dozens of good bills suffer an early death at the hands of Republican leaders. My 2004 amendment to the Department of Justice appropriations bill, which denied taxpayer funds to sanctuary cities, did not get majority support even among Republicans.

As a “back bencher,” I often dreamed of how different it would be if Republicans in Congress were challenged by a Republican president who put the rule of law ahead of the open borders favored by K Street business lobbyists. I regret to say, that dream dims with every day President Trump fails to stand up to Congress on immigration reform.

Tom Tancredo represented Colorado’s 6th congressional district from 1999 to 2009.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Davis-Oliver Act Donald Trump Immigration Kate's Law No Sanctuary for Criminals Act Paul Ryan Tom Tancredo

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