Jared Kushner was supposed to craft a peace plan that would unite the Israelis and Palestinians. Now, he’s put together a “grand bargain” on immigration that doesn’t even unite congressional Republicans.
The last time Congress tried to pass immigration legislation was February of last year, when the Senate rejected four separate bills. The most popular of these — appealing enough to secure 54 Senate votes (6 short of a filibuster-proof majority) — was a package that paired a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children with $25 billion in border security funding. The least popular proposal — which garnered a measly 39 Senate votes — combined that same path to citizenship for Dreamers with $25 billion in border wall funding, and sweeping reforms to the legal immigration system that would drastically reduce the number of visas available to foreign family members of American citizens.
Since these proposals failed, Democrats have taken control of the House, giving their party far more influence over what laws Congress can and cannot pass.
So, naturally, Kushner decided to take the policy that only had 39 Senate votes last year, strip out the one piece of that proposal that appealed to Democrats, eliminate the provision that Trump’s nativist base revered the most, make a couple of other tweaks, and then present the resulting product as a bipartisan compromise.
President Trump announced his new immigration policy in the Rose Garden Thursday. No actual bill text exists so the details remain fuzzy. But Trump’s description, and other reports, suggest that the legislation includes, among other things:
• Funding for border security, including a wall.
• Reforms to asylum law that would make asylum more difficult to secure.
• Sweeping reforms of the legal immigration system that would massively reduce family-based immigration, while massively increasing the number of visas available to “high skill” workers. At present, more than half of all immigrants to the U.S. each year qualify for entrance on the basis of a family connection, while just 12 percent enter because they possess a job offer or high-demand skills. Kushner’s plan would essentially flip those percentages. But, unlike the White House’s similar proposal from one year ago, this new reform would change the composition of the incoming immigrants without reducing their number.
Crucially, the plan not only lacks a path to citizenship for Dreamers, but offers no group of undocumented immigrants protections from deportation of any kind. Although presented as a high-minded compromise, the legislation does not even gesture toward any of the Democratic Party’s priorities for immigration policy. The closest thing it includes to a concession is the maintenance of existing legal immigration levels. But Democrats have no interest in radically reducing the ability of U.S. citizens to bring their overseas relatives to this country. And, of course, they are adamantly opposed to Trump’s wall.
Granted, even if Kushner had presented Democrats with a perfectly balanced compromise, it’s unlikely Congress would take action on such ambitious legislation before the 2020 election. The new plan is almost certainly intended purely as a messaging bill — an attempt to sketch out the Republican Party’s vision for immigration, in a manner that simultaneously excites the base and appeases moderate swing voters.
But even on that level, Kushner’s blueprint looks like a failure. Republican activists don’t actually care much about whether immigrants come to this country on the strength of their CVs or family connections; they just want fewer of them. “[T]he brain trust overseeing this effort is out of touch with the president’s base,” Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, writes in the National Review. “The proposal will not include any reduction in the overall level of legal immigration, not even a symbolic one.”
Krikorian isn’t the only conservative skeptic. As Bloomberg reports:
The plan … lacks programs such as E-Verify, a system that allows employers to confirm the eligibility of their workers, which Republicans have long supported as key components of immigration reform. There’s concern that the shift toward high-skilled workers could adversely impact construction and farming industries reliant on immigrant labor.
… White House officials, who requested anonymity to discuss the efforts to sell Republican leaders on the bill, acknowledged these concerns had been raised by multiple lawmakers. But while the officials are optimistic that the immigration overhaul would boost wages and the economy as a whole, they were unwilling to name any GOP lawmakers who had been swayed by their presentation.
What’s more, as Vox’s Dara Lind notes, the proposal’s focus on transitioning to “merit-based legal immigration” — as opposed to measures designed to address the purported migrant emergency — “requires Trump to pivot away from the idea that the US/Mexico border is in crisis and that Congress needs to spend all of its energy addressing the unprecedented number of families coming to the US without papers.”
Even if Kushner had cleared the threshold of competence on this assignment, it’s unclear what the president would have gained. Reports suggest that some Republicans believe Trump can mitigate his potential electoral liability on immigration by putting forward a reasonable, bipartisan proposal. But it’s hard to imagine there are many voters who consider immigration their top issue — and yet, are waiting to see the administration’s new white paper before deciding whether Donald Trump or the Democratic Party best represents their views on immigration.