House Conservatives Urge Trump to Drive Hard ‘Dreamer’ Bargain
Freedom Caucus members want president to veto DREAM Act without major concessions
Conservative representatives in the House Freedom Caucus want President Donald Trump to take a hard line on his 70-point list of demands for granting legal status to so-called “dreamers.”
Progressives were apoplectic after Trump released the list over the weekend. It included building a wall along the Mexican border, beefing up immigration enforcement, cracking down on visa abuse, and making legal immigration more restrictive.
Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told LifeZette that the president should stop any amnesty that does not include major concessions from Democrats.
"We would certainly encourage the president to veto it and would have that as a strong desire," he said Wednesday. "We would actually be passing a bill to address a symptom of an open and porous southern border without fixing the root cause of that."
Meadows said he is trying not to "draw too many lines in the sand" but added that any deal would have to include stronger border and interior enforcement; a mandate that all employers use the E-Verify system to confirm the legal status of job applicants; and a measure to curtail "chain migration" that allows citizens to sponsor extended family members for permanent residency.
Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing in the opposite direction. Several members of Congress have called for no compromise over the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would grant legal status to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children. They have called for forcing Trump's hand by attaching the DREAM Act to must-pass legislation, such as bills raising the government's borrowing limit, renewing the Children's Health Insurance Program, and reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration.
Congress is dealing with a deadline of March 5 that Trump set when he named that date as the point at which permits issued under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program would begin to expire.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), another member of the Freedom Caucus, suggested he would not be willing to trade away much from the list Trump issued.
"I hope President Trump will draw as hard a line as possible to protect the interests of American citizens and put the interests of citizens first and not last, as is so often the case with these immigration debates," he told LifeZette. "I would fight for all or almost all of the principles on the Trump immigration policy principles, and not retreat on any of them."
Polls suggest the public views dreamers — DREAM Act beneficiaries — sympathetically because they were too young to make the choice to violate immigration law. And a number of Republicans support some version of amnesty for them. That raises the possibility that a bill could pass even without consensus among Republicans.
"I'm not worried at all provided that the Trump administration will veto it."
"The first issue if something like that came up is, would [House Speaker] Paul Ryan rely on the Hastert rule?" said immigration activist Chris Chmielenski, referring to a rule, set by former Speaker Dennis Hastert, that legislation would not move unless it had the support of the majority of the Republican caucus.
Meadows noted that Ryan became speaker, in part, because his predecessor angered conservatives by passing legislation mostly with Democratic votes. Ryan assured conservatives he would not do that.
"The speaker would have to violate his commitment that he made to a number of conservative members before he become speaker," Meadows said. "And that promise has been reiterated a number of times prior to us getting into this latest negotiation … And so, I can't imagine the speaker going back on his word, especially if they look at passing a dreamer act that only had a handful of Republicans along with all the Democrats. It would be a politically perilous position to take."
Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, said the Hastert rule might not even apply if momentum for amnesty picks up.
"Scary as it sounds, I'm not sure it wouldn't get 50 percent of the caucus," he said.
Meadows said it would be disastrous for the GOP.
"We haven't been able to repeal and replace Obamacare. We still have not built a wall. We are in the middle of tax reform and trying to deliver there," he said. "And to suggest that the first piece of major legislation that we send to the president's desk is a clean dreamer bill would defy not only those who elected most members of the Republican conference but certainly would send a bad message that we failed to adhere what the American people said on November 8th."
Even if a bill did pass, it likely would not become law, Brooks said.
"I'm not worried at all provided that the Trump administration will veto it," he said. "We certainly have the votes to sustain a veto."
Meadows said Democrats would demonstrate that they are not willing to negotiate in good faith if they insist on a clean DREAM Act.
"If they say that it is the dreamer act or nothing, then it will end up being nothing," he said.
(photo credit, homepage images: Los Angeles March for Immigrant Rights, Desaturated/Low opacity, CC BY 2.0, by Molly Adams; photo credit, article images: Los Angeles March for Immigrant Rights, CC BY 2.0, by Molly Adams)