The White House today released four principles for immigration reform. Overall, the Trump plan would cut legal immigration and spend about $25 billion on border security and a wall. In exchange, the Trump administration has decided to support an amnesty and citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million DREAMers.
It’s unclear how the administration estimates that only 1.8 million illegal immigrant DREAMers would gain citizenship as the number could be very different from that. Most likely, they assume that many people could have earned DACA but did not.
The conservative reaction to Trump’s support for amnesty and citizenship, even though he’s always said that he could accept such a compromise, has been swift. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) preempted the rollout of Trump’s principles by stating, “I do not believe we should be granting a path to citizenship to anybody here illegally … Doing so is inconsistent with the promises we made to the men and women who elected us.” Cruz’s sentiment is consistent with his position during the 2013 debate over S. 744 where he favored a legalization but not an amnesty and path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Senator Cruz employed even more cruel rhetoric when he said, “For some reason that [amnesty] to me is utterly inexplicable, we see Republicans falling all over themselves to gallop to the left of [former President] Obama in a way that is contrary to the promises made to the voters who elected us.” Any comparison of President Trump to former-President Obama by a Republican is evidence that Trump’s amnesty plan will not be well received.
Representative Steve King (R-IA) has repeatedly said that he won’t vote for amnesty. Although he hasn’t spoken about Trump’s amnesty proposal, we can safely assume that the conservative Iowa congressman, who is nothing if not consistent, is a hard “no.” Virginia Republican gadfly and proud Trump-supporter Corey Stewart trashed Trump’s amnesty. Republican primary challengers from Mississippi to Nevada are furious at the betrayal.
Amnesty is a toxic word among conservative immigration restrictionists. They spent 25 years calling every proposal they disliked “amnesty” and mobilizing large numbers of people to oppose them. The extent to which the conservative media describes President Trump’s immigration plan as amnesty will determine how unpopular it is. The media outlet Breitbart labeled President Trump “amnesty Don” after they heard he would be supporting amnesty and a path to citizenship for DREAMers. When the plan was released they called it “Don’s Amnesty Bonanza” and compared it to other “failed” amnesties. The Washington Times headline is “Trump amnesty to cover 1.8 million Dreamers; triple Obama’s DACA,” – comparing Trump to Obama is toxic to the president’s base. The story goes on to describe the amnesty as “generous.” The Drudge Report’s Twitter account led with “Triple Obama’s DACA.”
Heritage Action, the Heritage Foundation’s political outreach arm, condemned President Trump’s amnesty as harshly as it could in order to maintain its ties to the administration. Heritage Action’s press release called President Trump’s plan an amnesty, said amnesties always grow in size and scope, and then raised concerned about the Gang of Eight 2013 S. 744 immigration reform bill. The Federation for American Immigration Reform is emphasizing its anti-amnesty stance to appeal to their supporters. Daniel Horowitz, Senior Editor of conservativereview.com called it a “@#$% hole of an amnesty.” Last, Mark Krikorian of the nativist Center for Immigration Studies fiercely criticized the Four Pillars in a post at National Review Online calling it “The Art of the Choke.” That last piece is most significant as Krikorian was long rumored to be the Trump immigration whisperer.
Worse than the media outlet and politicians, twitter commentators are going wild in opposition and fury at President Trump’s support for amnesty. Interestingly, so are a lot of groups that represent DREAMers. Check out this strongly worded press release to Four Pillars put out by United We Dream. That is a big loss as the expanded amnesty portion of the Trump Four Pillars was meant to appeal to them. If the DREAMer groups aren’t on board and the conservative base and media are opposed, Democrats will be emboldened to oppose this.
The amnesty portion of Trump’s plan is better than many other Republican options but the cuts in legal immigration are too great. We’ve suggested other workarounds that won’t cut legal immigration that both the administration and Congress should consider. At this stage, President Trump’s amnesty plan appears to be dead on arrival among his base, conservative Republicans, in the right-wing media, and DREAMers. The best thing that may come from this is that it undercut the Goodlatte bill.