The Slatest

The Most Cynical Part of the House GOP’s Draft Immigration Bill

House Speaker Paul Ryan.
House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

House Republicans on Thursday released a draft of the “compromise” immigration legislation they intend to vote on alongside a more conservative measure next week. The bill, as expected, centers around President Trump’s “four pillars” for reform: a solution for Dreamers, border security, the diversity lottery, and family-based immigration. It also includes language to “end” family separation at the border that the Trump administration could also just stop doing on its own, but instead has chosen to play games with.

The bill offers Dreamers who meet certain conditions to apply for a “6-year indefinitely renewable contingent nonimmigrant legal status,” per a summary. In addition, we finally know what members were babbling about last week when they talked about creating a “bridge to the legal immigration system” rather than a “special path to citizenship.” The bill sets up a new merit-based visa available to both children of certain lawful immigrants as well as the Dreamers granted contingent legal status.

The new merit-based program will draw its visas from cuts to other legal immigration categories. The bill eliminates the diversity lottery, and its 55,000 green cards per year, entirely. It also cuts 23,400 green cards from family based immigration by no longer allowing citizens to sponsor their married children and siblings. Democrats won’t like either of these changes, but the family category cuts aren’t as deep as those in Trump’s plan, which failed in the Senate in February.

The bill offers $23.4 billion for border security, including the wall, over eight years. It links that funding to the new merit-based visa category: Starting the sixth year, if the funding for border security isn’t available or has been transferred, reprogrammed, or rescinded, the new visas won’t be made available.

And then there’s the most cynical part of the bill, addressing the family separation crisis that the Trump administration has chosen to provoke. It “clarifies the Flores Settlement by ensuring accompanied alien minors apprehended at the border must not be separated from their parent or legal guardian while in DHS custody.” Families, under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, would be detained together.

House Republicans, and the president, are pretending that this settlement requires them to split up families, justifying the need for a legislative fix. This allows the separated families to serve as another legislative hostage—just like DACA beneficiaries—that Republicans can use to secure wall border funding, cuts to family-based legal immigration, other enforcement mechanisms the bill contains, as well as raised standards for asylum seekers.

And if Democrats refuse to pay the ransom, they will be criticized for not thinking of the children. Judging by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s just-released “Statement on GOP Anti-Immigrant Bill,” it’s not looking like this will get many, if any, Democratic votes.

It’s not clear that this will pass with only Republican votes, either, since it doesn’t expand the use of E-Verify and will have more than enough material for cranks to describe as world-ending amnesty. Whipping begins shortly.