How Trump’s Bold Immigration Reform Could Get Past Congress
Hard-liner floats compromise package to combine RAISE Act with amnesty for DACA recipients
President Donald Trump on Wednesday gave a big boost to a bold plan to reform America’s immigration system, but it still faces long odds of becoming law.
The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act would need a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes in the Senate, where Republicans have only 52 votes. And the GOP is far from unified.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) quickly put out a statement panning the idea, which would cut legal immigration by up to half and prioritize newcomers with higher skills, education, and English fluency.
"South Carolina's number-one industry is agriculture, and tourism is number two," he stated. "If this proposal were to become law, it would be devastating to our state's economy, which relies on this immigrant workforce."
Still, some supporters of the bill said it is not a foregone conclusion that it will fail.
"The chances of it passing are not zero," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
Krikorian said it is possible Trump could swing a deal involving the controversial Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants work authorization and protection from deportation to some illegal immigrants who came to America as children. Trump has kept former President Barack Obama's executive order in place, but he could rescind it an any time, or a judge could declare it unconstitutional. Texas and nine other states have threatened to sue to block the program.
Krikorian said Trump could offer to support the codification of the program into law, offering permanent amnesty in exchange for the RAISE Act.
"If they're worried enough about their status, you could see a package deal," he said. "I think that would be worth it … That's the way it could pass."
Krikorian said it is important that Trump has put the full weight of his presidency behind the bill. Often, it takes years to build consensus for major legislation, he said.
"Even if it doesn't become law [this session], it's important to take that first shot, a first step in a debate," he said. "You've got to start somewhere."
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, acknowledged that passing the bill will be a heavy lift. He said it would take a combination of an engaged public, an active White House, and prioritization by Republican leaders in Congress.
"If we can go over the heads of Congress, if Republican leaders are willing to fight for it, the White House really pressures, it does have a chance because the current system really is indefensible," he said.
Senior White House adviser Stephen Miller told reporters Wednesday that public polling indicates broad support for the principles encapsulated in the bill.
"You're gonna see massive public support for this," he said. "And, ultimately, members of Congress are going to have a choice to make. They can either vote with the interests of U.S. citizens and U.S. workers, or they can vote against their interests, and whatever happens as a result of that, I think, would be somewhat predictable."
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who is sponsoring the bill along with Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Wednesday that he believes the proposal will become more popular as people learn more about the details.
"David and I are committed for the long haul to making this bill a reality," he said. "The president campaigned on immigration as the single distinctive issue that separated him not just from Hillary Clinton but from 16 other Republicans. And the American people expect him to deliver on that."
As yet, there are no signs of cracks on the Left.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer that the bill would hurt agriculture in the nation's biggest farm state.
"I don't think it will pass the Senate, and I will do everything I can to prevent it from passing the Senate," she said.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice released a statement lambasting the proposal: "The RAISE Act is part of a larger strategy to scapegoat immigrants and further marginalize people of color. Contrary to the xenophobic and misguided stereotypes that belie the RAISE Act, immigrants contribute immensely to our economy, create jobs for all Americans, and increase safety in our communities."