Five GOP Bright Spots on Immigration
Some Republicans are bucking the president’s agenda.
Donald Trump’s rise in the Republican Party has led to a swift resurgence of hardline immigration policy in the GOP. Restrictionists normally relegated to the fringes of the party now dictate policy in the White House, and dubious claims about immigrants and refugees that used to permeate through the likes of Breitbart are now being peddled from the highest levels of government.
But as President Trump continues his crackdown on immigrants and refugees, some Republicans in the Senate and House are bucking his agenda. These pragmatic, reform-minded conservatives with real solutions to fixing the broken immigration system are making their voices heard.
Here are five Republican proposals suggesting promising changes to immigration policy.
#1 The BRIDGE Act
President Trump has threatened to abolish the DACA program, which provides work authorization and deferred deportation action for 750,000 people brought to the U.S. as youth. To prevent this vulnerable population from being removed, a bipartisan group in the House and Senate introduced the BRIDGE (Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream & Grow our Economy) Act.
BRIDGE continues protection against deportation for three years. In order to apply, applicants must pay a fee, undergo a criminal background check, and meet a series of eligibility criteria indicating they came to the U.S. as minors, grew up here, have not committed any serious crimes, and do not pose a threat to national security or public safety.
The House bill was introduced by Republican Mike Coffman (CO) and Democrat Luis Gutierrez (IL) and has 17 total co-sponsors, including: Republicans Bacon, Curbelo, Denham, Fitzpatrick, Newhouse, Reichart, Ros-Lehtinen, and Valadao. The Senate version was introduced by Republican Lindsey Graham (SC) and Dick Durbin (IL) in the Senate and has 8 total co-sponsors, including: Republicans Jeff Flake, Lisa Murkowski, and Dean Heller.
Both bills continue to garner bipartisan support, especially as DACA holders have been caught up in immigration raids in recent weeks.
#2 Recognizing America’s Children Act (RACA)
Last week, Florida Republican Carlos Curbelo introduced the Recognizing America’s Children Act (RACA). RACA provides an opportunity for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to obtain lawful permanent resident status if they serve in the military, graduate college, or work legally in the U.S. Of course, they must also undergo a thorough background check and biometric screening for consideration.
Original co-sponsors on RACA include Mike Coffman (CO), Jeff Denham (CA), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Mark Amodei (NV), Jenniffer González Colón (PR), Fred Upton (MI), David Reichert (WA) and David G. Valadao (CA).
As my colleague Kristie De Pena noted, “The RAC Act provides a pragmatic, secure legalization pathway that capitalizes on the most hard-working, enterprising immigrants who will continue to positively contribute to our economy and our society.”
Rep. Curbelo told the Miami Herald, “There is a general sense that this legislation will have a very good chance at becoming law this year.”
#3 The ENLIST ACT
In January, Republican Jeff Denham from California introduced the ENLIST Act, which offers undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. since 2012 and entered under the age of 15 the ability to enlist in the U.S. armed forces. Furthermore, the bill offers a green card to those immigrants if they are discharged under honorable conditions.
Rep. Denham argues, “There’s no greater act of patriotism than being willing to put your life on the line for a country that you love. It will show a great act of patriotism by those kids. Many of our immigrants are really excited to show that patriotism, to show the support of a country that has given them so much.”
The bill has 113 bipartisan co-sponsors, half from each party. It’s a common-sense reform that helps the U.S. armed forces and provides a sensible path to citizenship for those helping our nation overseas.
#4 The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act
Introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), this bill reforms the current per-country limits on employment and family visas. This damaging facet of our immigration system — in which no country can consume more than 7 percent of visas — unnecessarily targets larger countries with more expansive potential immigration flows.
It’s incredibly damaging to our economy when skilled workers from nations such as China or India need to wait years before coming to the U.S., and it’s devastating when families seeking reunification need to wait decades to come to the U.S. because of these massive backlogs.
This legislation eliminates the limits for employment immigration, and double the limits from 7 percent to 15 percent for family visas. It puts our economy on a stronger footing to compete economically for talent and lead to shorter wait times for immigrant families.
The bipartisan bill has 123 co-sponsors and continues to gain support every week.
#5 Border Wall Financing
Finally, a series of influential Republicans have raised serious concerns about the financing of President Trump’s proposed border wall.
GOP Senators Cornyn, Gardner, McCain, Murkowski, Corker, Alexander, Lankford, and others have all leveled criticisms against the cost and financing mechanisms for the border wall. The push from Senate Republicans is to fully offset the border wall costs with spending cuts.
Senator Murkowski argued, “If you’re going to spend that kind of money, you’re going to have to show me where you’re going to get that money”.
Senator Cornyn said, “I have concerns about spending un-offset money, which adds to the debt,” and expressed doubts that a physical barrier will solve the problem.
Senator Corker from Tennessee noted that big increases in spending, like that from a border wall, and decreases in revenues are a “recipe for disaster.” He said, “I don’t want to see any spending, additional spending on anything done that is not paid for” because of the “huge fiscal problem” the U.S. is facing right now.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who sits on the Appropriations Committee, said, “Everything we spend we need to find a way to pay for.”
Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma argued, “we shouldn’t just build a wall and add billions of dollars because that’s what somebody said should be done” and “we can’t pay for it out of thin air”.
Senator Cory Gardner, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, argued “billions of dollars on a wall is not the right way to proceed”.
President Trump’s problems don’t stop in the Senate. Republican Representatives Labrador, Hurd, Sanford, Massive, Amash, and others in the House are worried about the financing of a wall as well.
Texas Republican Will Hurd — who represents the largest stretch of the southern border — argued, “Building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border,” saying it’s “unnecessary” and wastes “hard-earned taxpayer dollars.”
Michigan Republican Justin Amash flatly stated, “It looks like they’re going to blow up our budget.”
The biggest roadblock to many of the president’s most destructive plans will be the appropriations process. Lawmakers should reject the financing of tens of billions in border wall funding and instead focus resources on more pressing issues.
The overall acceptance of President Trump’s immigration agenda from Republicans in Congress has been disappointing. But there certainly is a strong block of immigration reformers in the Republican party that seek real legislative solutions to our broken immigration system. We must defend and support these GOP moderates with positive immigration agendas, especially considering a legislative window on immigration reform may be opening up soon.
Republicans need to change their hardline tone on immigration and act on substantive solutions, including legalization and legal immigration fixes. Republicans need an immigration vision beyond crackdowns, deportations, walls, and detention. The congressional leaders and bills listed above are a great start to a more coherent, just, and economical immigration system.
Originally published at niskanencenter.org on March 16, 2017.