Immigration hawks mostly gave high marks Thursday to a proposal to codify the quasi-amnesty program popularly known as DACA into law while granting a long wish list of advocates of tighter enforcement. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) unveiled the Securing America’s Future Act of 2018 Wednesday. Five senior Republicans are co-sponsoring the bill, including Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas), whom many border hawks view with suspicion.
“This is a very important bill,” Goodlatte told Fox News host Shannon Bream late Wednesday night. “The president, when he ended DACA, as he should have … said, ‘You have to address the DACA recipients.'”
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was created by an executive order signed by President Barack Obama. President Donald Trump withdrew the executive order and asked Congress to approve a permanent legislative solution.
The new bill would keep the current status of people enrolled in DACA, allowing participants to renew their work permits every three years but not have a chance to become citizens.
In exchange, the bill authorizes construction of a wall along the southwest border, adds 5,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents, mandates implementation of a biometric entry-exit system to track foreigners entering the country, improves technology, cracks down on “sanctuary” jurisdictions, requires employers to use the E-Verify system, and increases penalties on illegal immigrants who commit crimes after returning to America following deportation.
The bill also includes significant changes to the legal immigration system, cutting migration from other countries by 25 percent, ending a lottery program that awards about 50,000 green cards each year to people randomly chosen from a large pool of applicants in other countries, ending the ability of new citizens to sponsor extended family members for immigration, and granting preference to immigrants with skills and education.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said passage of the bill would vastly improve the status quo but noted the proposal is not perfect. She expressed concerns in particular about a provision that expands agricultural guest workers.
“What this is, is a response to what the president and his homeland security officials have identified as needs … This is the bill that comes closest to fulfilling all of those needs, in addition to meeting some needs identified by employers in the agriculture sector, for instance,” she said.
President Donald Trump endorsed the legislation.
“The president looks forward to advancing legislation that secures the border, ends chain migration, cancels the visa lottery, and addresses the status of the DACA population in a responsible fashion,” the White House said in a statement late Wednesday night.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen praised the bill, saying it “reflects many of the policy principles and priorities identified by DHS’s frontline personnel which the administration has advocated for this past year.”
Other advocates for reducing legal and illegal immigration also endorsed the bill. NumbersUSA President Roy Beck said in a statement that the legislation “will deliver a significant net improvement to the lives of American wage-earners and communities … By moving us toward an immigration system that better serves the national interest, this bill keeps the promises of candidate Trump and President Trump.”
That view is not unanimous among immigration hawks, however. William Gheen, president of the Americans for Legal Immigration political action committee, blasted the proposal as a “Republican dirty trick.” Gheen said he doubts the courts would ever allow a “second-class” tier of legal residents and would in short order grant them the ability to attain citizenship. He called support by NumbersUSA a “betrayal” of millions of Americans who have supported the organization over the years.
“The enforcement provisions mean nothing when the bill’s amnesty provisions will elect Bernie Sanders, Oprah Winfrey candidates for the next century,” he said.
Even if the House of Representatives passes the bill, it likely would be dead on arrival in the Senate, where supporters would need to win 60 votes to break an all-but-certain Democratic filibuster.
“It’s gonna be tough,” Vaughan acknowledged. “The problem is not only Democrats but some Republicans who are oblivious to these needs.”
Vaughan said the House should pass the strongest bill possible and then negotiate with the Senate. If the Senate were to pass a bill, she said, House Republicans would have to be willing to compromise.
“I’m OK with a good bill if you can’t get a great bill,” she said.