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    Immigration on the agenda as Trump-GOP propose path to citizenship for Dreamers in exchange for a $25 billion border wall and severe cuts to legal immigration; Democrats react negatively


    Americas: United States


    Special Report: Trump proposes path to citizenship for Dreamers in exchange for a $25 billion border wall and severe cuts to legal immigration; Democrats react negatively


    Summary: The United States government shut down amidst a partisan dispute over immigration and border security.  A temporary stopgap measure gained bipartisan support, effectively re-opening the government on a temporary basis,  with a new deadline of Feb. 8, 2018 set to forge an immigration and border security deal.  The feasibility of such a deal was a matter of debate at the end of January 2018 when the Trump administration advanced a proposal that would include a path to citizenship for so-called “Dreamers” but in exchange for a $25 billion border wall and severe cuts to legal immigration.  Note that in his State of the Union address, President Trump reiterated his hardline proposal, the details of which were largely included in a plan advanced by Senate Republicans in February 2018. Democrats, as expected, reacted negatively to this offering. It was to be seen if this hardline immigration agenda by Trump and the Republicans would gain the requisite 60 votes in the Senate to  be viable. 


    In Detail: 


    The United States government shut down at midnight on Jan. 20, 2018, after it technically ran out of money to function.  Republicans, who control both Houses of Congress and the presidency, failed to reach an agreement with Democrats over funding the government.  As such, federal agencies across the country would be unable to operate and "non-essential" federal workers would be placed on temporary unpaid leave.


    The Republican-controlled House of Representatives had already passed a stopgap funding measure on Jan. 18, 2018, and so the action moved to the Republican-controlled Senate the next day.  There, Republicans needed the support of at least 10 Democrats to pass the bill in the upper chamber.


    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer had been ensconced in negotiations intended to prevent a shut down of the government functions, but their efforts were not successful. Late night negotiations on Jan. 19, 2018, ended in failure amidst a partisan dispute over immigration and border security.


    One backstory of the failure of negotiations was the fact that President Trump met with Senator Minority Leader Schumer, who was willing to go along with the notion of a  border wall in exchange for DACA protections.  Media reports indicated that the president was hospitable to the idea, which was ultimately derailed by White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who deemed the agreement insufficiently appealing to conservative hardliners. 


    In the vote that followed late in the night on Jan. 19, 2018, the Senate effectively blocked legislation to extend government funding through the middle of February 2018.  Only 50 senators supported the bill, which required 60 votes in the 100-member upper chamber to pass.  


    At issue for Democrats, who overwhelmingly rejected the bill was the fact that it did not include protections for hundreds of thousands of  “Dreamers” — young immigrants who were brought to the United States through no fault of their own and allowed to stay in the country legally thanks to President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 


    With Republican leaders refusing to include protections for Dreamers from deportation, and with Trump rejecting a bipartisan proposal that even included funding for his border wall, Democrats were disinclined to back down.  Even a measure by Republicans to attach a six-year funding extension for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) did not prove to be a deal sweetener. 


    Of note was the fact that the government shut down occurred on the first anniversary of President Donald Trump's inauguration. During his inaugural address a year earlier, Trump made the following vow: “We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action – constantly complaining but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.”  But at the one-year mark, instead of action, the capital and the country's government agencies were under a shutdown, and with the ruling Republican Party — in control of all branches of government — raising questions about their governing acumen. 


    Prevented from attending a celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort to mark the occasion of his first year in office, Trump immediately blamed the Democrats.  In a statement from the White House, he declared:  "Tonight, they [Democrats]  put politics above our national security, military families, vulnerable children, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans.”  


    In truth, however, because Republicans control both houses of Congress, including the Senate, they should have been able to overcome the actions of the minority party to keep the government running.  


    Moreover, because the president, who repeatedly championed himself as a brilliant dealmaker, had indicated he was interested in forging an agreement to protect Dreamers, there had been an opportunity to craft an agreement.  Now, however, that window was closed.  


    Indeed, the Trump White House was now signaling that it would not be engaging in any moves that would help Dreamers.  The statement from the Trump White House included the following assertion: "We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands. This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators."


    On the other side of the equation, Democrats redirected the blame squarely at the Republican president.   Senate Democratic leader Schumer declared, "It's almost as if you were rooting for a shutdown and now we'll have one and the blame should crash entirely on President Trump's shoulders."


    Irrespective of the lack of help from President Trump, leaders in the Senate from both parties agreed to restart negotiations aimed at finding a resolution.  That being said, with the stakes now higher than ever, it was difficult to see where either Republicans or Democrats would be inclined to make compromises. Meanwhile, only “essential” government service would be able to function. Included in the list of "essential" employees would be those charged with public safety and national security.  


    That group would include members of the military on active duty who would be required to work but would not be paid until funding can be restored in some way.  Both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence accused Democrats of playing politics with military pay; however, that  Democrats were thwarted from an alleviating measure by none other than the Republican leader in the Senate.  To that end, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill attempted to pass a bill guaranteeing military pay and death benefits during the government shutdown but Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked it.   


    On Jan. 21, 2018, Senate Majority Leader McConnell said that he would consider legislation to address DACA and border security in February 2018, in the hopes that Democrats would vote to end the government shutdown.  Of crucial importance was the fact that  McConnell never actually said he would  bring up such legislation — simply that  it would be considered.  In fact,  if there was no breakthrough agreement forged by Feb. 8, 2018, then McConnell could conceivably use regular order to end the push for a DACA fix in committee, thus preventing the issue from even reaching the Senate floor for a vote.   It was to be seen if Democrats would sign on to the proposal or hold the line. 


    For his part, President Trump had already indicated he was no longer interested in any kind of bipartisan solution.  Via his favorite social media outlet, Trump tweeted that Republicans in the Senate should invoke the so-called nuclear option and remove any leveraging power from Senate Democrats. He tweeted: ”Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked. If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long-term budget, no C.R.'s!"


    Note that on the afternoon of Jan. 22, 2018, the Senate voted to end the government shut down, which had lasted for three days.  A stopgap funding measure garnered more than 60 votes to cross the procedural hurdles, with a final passage measure to come later on the same day.  The measure was expected to pass and move onto the House for passage.  


    The stopgap funding measure gained bipartisan support and essentially extended funding of the government for a three week period.  Many Democrats agreed to join Republicans to support the measure in exchange for assurances from Senate Majority Leader McConnell that the Congress would take up a broader immigration bill, as well as six years of funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, which expired months prior. 


    All eyes were on the new deadline of Feb. 8, 2018, when new immigration legislation was intended to be in place to protect Dreamers by restoring DACA, while also attending to border security.  Should no consensus be reached at that time, the government could be headed for another shutdown. It was difficult to see where the common ground could be achieved given the president's assessment, which was not imbued with the spirit of compromise.  President Trump hailed the resolution, temporary as it might be, declaring in a statement: "I am pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses."  He added, "My administration will work toward solving the problem of very unfair illegal immigration. We will make a long-term deal on immigration if, and only if, it is good for our country.”


    As January 2018 came to a close, the White House unveiled its proposal for an immigration deal.  In that proposal, the Trump administration indicated that it would offer a pathway to citizenship for approximately 800,000 Dreamers, but in exchange for an extreme reduction in legal immigration, including a total termination of the diversity visa program.  Also included in the proposal were provisions to hasten the rounding up of undocumented persons and immediately deporting them.   As expected, Trump’s campaign promise of a wall on the United States’ southern border was also part of the immigration proposal.  However, in contradiction to Trump’s campaign vow to make Mexico pay for that wall, he was now calling for American tax payers to fund the wall’s construction at a cost of $25 billion. 


    Of immediate concern to Democrats, as well as civil and human rights advocates, was the Trump administration’s move to severely curtail legal immigration.  While Trump supporters and backers have long claimed that Trump and the Republican Party opposed illegal immigration, this particular proposal illuminated the reality that the president’s nativist populism would have far reaching effects.  Indeed, Trump and the Republican Party appeared to be moving in a clearly hardline anti-immigration policy direction, marking a departure from the type of Republican policy agenda championed by the previous Republican administration of George W. Bush. 


    There was little chance that Democrats would sign onto these moves.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had already said that Democrats were no longer interested in a deal that would include Trump’s wall.  Now, many voices in the Democratic Party were eschewing any kind of deal with Trump and the Republican Party that would target legal immigration.  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi went so far as to blast Trump for wanting to keep immigrants from certain countries out of the United States.   Pelosi said, Trump was holding Dreamers “hostage to a hateful anti-immigrant scheme” and accused the Trump administration of a campaign “to make America white again.” For his part, Trump attempted to cast the proposal as a boon for Democrats which they were willing to reject, saying via Twitter: “I have offered DACA a wonderful deal, including a doubling in the number of recipients & a twelve year pathway to citizenship, for two reasons: (1) Because the Republicans want to fix a long time terrible problem. (2) To show that Democrats do not want to solve DACA, only use it!”  He added, “Democrats are not interested in Border Safety & Security or in the funding and rebuilding of our Military. They are only interested in Obstruction!”


    Note that in his State of the Union address at the end of January 2018, President Trump reiterated his hardline immigration proposal, which included a pathway to  citizenship for Dreamers, but only in exchange for the construction of his southern border wall and  draconian changes to the existing pathway for legal immigration, including drastic reductions in the number of immigrants allowed into the United States. 


    In February 2018, Senate Republicans offered their own immigration package, which was in line with Trump's proposal, given the inclusion of border security, accelerated deportations, and draconian limits to legal immigration. The Republican plan also provided for family units to be kept in immigration jails while they wait for rulings. 


    The limits to legal immigration was a key component of the Republican immigration package as it included  reductions in family reunification, which has been a central aspect of immigration policy in the United States. Indeed, United States policy has long held that integration and assimilation of immigrants are core features of a stable and secure society. Family reunification has, to date,  been viewed as an effective pathway to that desired destination.  Trump and the Republican Party, however, have sought to rebrand family reunification as a method of unchecked immigration, casting it pejoratively as "chain migration."


    Another aspect of the Republican plan was the total elimination of the diversity lottery, which would reduce total legal immigration to the United States by a third.  There was, however,  a 10-12 year path to citizenship for young undocumented people brought to the United States as children, essentially setting up a wedge between legal and illegal immigrants in the United States.  


    Debate on this proposed immigration legislation -- the only plan backed by President Trump -- was set to begin on Feb. 12, 2018 but ut was unclear if it could garner support from the 60 senators needed to be viable. 


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