Halting DACA opens the door to comprehensive immigration reform
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Back in October, I predicted that there was a strong likelihood that if Donald Trump were elected, he would take steps to limit immigration that went beyond what even most Republicans found appropriate, and that such a move by Trump would open the door to the possibility of bipartisan immigration reform.

President Trump’s moves to halt Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, may indeed be that opening that motivates Congress to engage in a bipartisan effort to enact immigration reform, and could be the impetus that finally gets a major immigration bill across the finish line.

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Specifically, there has been such a bipartisan backlash against the move to end the DACA program — which offers temporary protection from deportation for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children — that this may truly open the door to having Congress engage in another effort to enact immigration reform. The scope of such reform may not be as comprehensive as the Gang of Eight, but the need to “fix” DACA could involve efforts to include broader immigration reforms, such as a path to citizenship, business needs, Sanctuary Cities and DACA.

 

For such an effort to gain the necessary momentum to force Congress to address it in a serious way, however, likely requires some pain and some risk. Specifically, Congress is unlikely to act on broader immigration efforts unless we see the pain that removing DACA could impose on individuals and families. The risk is that Congress may not be able to muster the effort, or find an agreement, to address DACA, much less other immigration issues that could be addressed as part of the DACA effort.

There is some discussion that Democrats may seek to add a provision to various must pass bills like the debt ceiling that would curtail the administration’s ability to make such a change. While such an effort could pass, given the leverage that Democrats have over many of these must-pass bills, such an effort would ironically kill the necessary political impetus to pass an immigration bill, putting the issue on the back-burner for yet another Congress. Specifically, this Congress has demonstrated an inability to pass major legislation without a deadline, so any effort to pass major contentious legislation without some looming deadline is likely doomed to failure.

In other words, addressing the risk and stopping the pain could have significant short-term implications for DACA’s Dreamers, but without such risk, the ability to pass broader legislation is snuffed out. 

In what would be quite a Machiavellian effort, we could also see an effort by Republicans who want to limit the opening to engage in a more comprehensive discussion, and simply “take the issue off the table,” seek to add a DACA provision to these must pass bills. Such an effort could not only bring much-needed Democratic support to the table, but could stymie more comprehensive immigration discussions.

Of course, the passage of a broader immigration reform bill is by no means assured with or without the need to “do something” about DACA.

Immigration is not an easy political issue to tackle, particularly given the splits among Republicans. Further, as we learned from the experience with the Affordable Care Act, having the House and Senate each try to craft their own plan to tackle a very sensitive political issue is extraordinarily difficult and time consuming, particularly when time and attention will be competing with other congressional priorities.

Trump’s statement on DACA Tuesday noted “permits will not begin to expire for another six months,” this could be the clock that sets the time-frame for immigration reform. However it is far more likely that any serious effort to pass broader immigration reform would not seriously commence until 2018, and could even be an issue that Congress only really starts to tackle in a 2018 lame-duck session.

Another challenge that any effort to engage in a broader immigration debate will face is settling on the issues that are, or are not, considered. Specifically, outside of DACA, would a broader effort tackle business needs like H-1Bs and farm labor? Would Congress explore a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegals in addition to DACA? Or would DACA be the only issue that enough consensus emerges to move forward on?

Clearly, no one knows the answers to any of these questions. The need to answer them rests on what happens with DACA, and whether Congress seeks a narrow fix, or rolls the dice on seeking a broader solution.

Joe Rubin is the senior vice president of Government Relations and Public Affairs at MWWPR, an international Public Relations firm. Rubin was senior counsel and co-chair of the government relations practice for Arnall Golden Gregory LLP and former staff to the House Judiciary Committee.


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