Will Trump’s Immigration Orders Be a Barrier to Compromise?

The new president is vowing to make good on hard-line campaign pledges, raising the question of whether any bipartisan actions are possible.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence and others, taps on the table after signing an executive order for immigration actions to build border wall, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, at the Homeland Security Department in Washington.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Ben Geman and Alex Rogers
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Ben Geman Alex Rogers
Jan. 25, 2017, 6:28 p.m.

Don­ald Trump’s new ex­ec­ut­ive or­ders on im­mig­ra­tion raise an im­port­ant ques­tion on Cap­it­ol Hill: Does his push to build a bor­der wall mean that the White House is tak­ing a sledge­ham­mer to any pro­spects for bi­par­tis­an im­mig­ra­tion re­form?

Demo­crats re­acted with out­rage as Trump is­sued or­ders aimed at spur­ring con­struc­tion of his long-prom­ised wall on the Mex­ic­an bor­der, de­port­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants who have com­mit­ted crimes, and cut­ting fund­ing to so-called sanc­tu­ary cit­ies that re­fuse to help fed­er­al of­fi­cials crack down on un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants.

“Amer­ic­ans de­serve a real fix to our broken im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem that strengthens bor­der se­cur­ity, pro­tects work­ers, and treats im­mig­rants fairly. Build­ing a wall on our bor­der and fear in our hearts will not move this na­tion for­ward,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, the minor­ity whip.

Durbin is work­ing with GOP Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham to push for pro­tect­ing un­doc­u­mented people who came to the states when they were kids from de­port­a­tion.

But while the an­ger is clear, less cer­tain is wheth­er the or­ders leave polit­ic­al space for ne­go­ti­ations over sev­er­al oth­er crit­ic­al im­mig­ra­tion is­sues that have po­ten­tial for bi­par­tis­an co­oper­a­tion, such as bol­ster­ing the H-1B Visa pro­gram for high-skilled for­eign work­ers.

John Fee­hery, a lob­by­ist and former GOP lead­er­ship aide, said Trump’s stances on im­mig­ra­tion could break mul­tiple ways on Cap­it­ol Hill when it comes to em­ploy­ers’ ac­cess to high-skilled for­eign work­ers, a top­ic of in­tense in­terest to Sil­ic­on Val­ley.

“The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will be even more hos­tile to this work-visa pro­gram than [Pres­id­ent Obama’s Labor Sec­ret­ary] Tom Perez was. I don’t know how Con­gress re­acts to that,” said Fee­hery, who lob­bies on im­mig­ra­tion is­sues, in an email.

“They can be more bi­par­tis­an in or­der to over­come Trump op­pos­i­tion or they can be split down the middle and pro­grams just die, lead­ing to some ma­jor is­sues for the tech in­dustry,” he said.

One Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship aide ex­pressed hope that Trump’s or­ders could spur ac­tion on Cap­it­ol Hill.

“They bring new ur­gency for bi­par­tis­an ac­tion,” the aide said. “Be­cause Re­pub­lic­ans don’t trust the pres­id­ent either.”

While it’s highly un­clear wheth­er any type of broad­er im­mig­ra­tion meas­ures can gain trac­tion, one Sen­ate GOP aide said Trump’s ac­tion bol­sters Re­pub­lic­ans.

“For the longest time Re­pub­lic­ans have been ne­go­ti­at­ing from a po­s­i­tion of weak­ness on this is­sue. This is Trump demo­ing that we can ne­go­ti­ate from a po­s­i­tion of strength,” the aide said. “Don­ald Trump has just proven to them that they are not go­ing to get all that they want.”

The aide said the or­ders put the ball in Demo­crats’ court as to wheth­er they want to use Trump’s ac­tions as cam­paign-trail fod­der for the next two years, or seek work on le­gis­la­tion that in­cludes the Demo­crat­ic pri­or­ity of some kind of leg­al status for un­doc­u­mented people—but on the GOP’s terms for how to tackle bor­der se­cur­ity first.

“It’s up to them to start sound­ing reas­on­able, and giv­en what the pres­id­ent has just done, bor­der se­cur­ity is part of be­ing reas­on­able. That is the baseline,” the GOP aide said.

One seni­or Demo­crat said law­makers should dust off the bi­par­tis­an le­gis­la­tion that cleared the Sen­ate un­der Demo­crat­ic con­trol in 2013 that in­cluded vari­ous bor­der-se­cur­ity meas­ures but over­all isn’t as hard-line as Trump’s im­mig­ra­tion plat­form, while also cre­at­ing a 13-year path to cit­izen­ship for mil­lions of un­doc­u­mented res­id­ents.

That meas­ure also boos­ted the num­ber of visas for high-skilled work­ers and cre­ated a new guest-visa pro­gram for lower-skilled work­ers, among many oth­er pro­vi­sions.

“If Pres­id­ent Trump is ser­i­ous about se­cur­ing our bor­ders and mod­ern­iz­ing our im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem, I would sug­gest he look to the bi­par­tis­an, com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­forms passed by the Sen­ate in 2013. The prob­lems plaguing our im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem are com­plex, de­mand­ing re­spons­ible and com­pre­hens­ive re­forms,” said Sen. Pat Leahy, the top Demo­crat on the Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee.

A seni­or of­fi­cial with the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, which backed the 2013 com­prom­ise, said the group still hopes to work with Con­gress.

“It is widely ac­cep­ted that we need in­creased bor­der se­cur­ity and there are sev­er­al ways to achieve it. The Cham­ber be­lieves that in­creased bor­der se­cur­ity is one part of a broad­er puzzle that needs to be solved to ad­dress the im­mig­ra­tion is­sues in this coun­try,” said Randy John­son, the group’s seni­or vice pres­id­ent of labor, im­mig­ra­tion, and em­ploy­ee be­ne­fits.

“We look for­ward to work­ing with the Con­gress and the new ad­min­is­tra­tion and en­ga­ging in a ro­bust de­bate on these is­sues in the fu­ture,” he said in a state­ment.

But thus far im­mig­ra­tion is not a GOP pri­or­ity in either cham­ber this year bey­ond plans to provide money for Trump’s planned bor­der wall.

Trump’s or­ders sig­nal that he’s com­mit­ted to im­ple­ment­ing his hard-line im­mig­ra­tion po­s­i­tions that an­im­ated his cam­paign. And Trump’s ag­gress­ive moves—not to men­tion his pro­tec­tion­ist, pop­u­list in­aug­ur­a­tion speech—re­flect the in­flu­ence of top ad­viser Steph­en Ban­non, who has ex­pressed un­ease about im­mig­rants’ strong rep­res­ent­a­tion in Sil­ic­on Val­ley, and at­tor­ney gen­er­al nom­in­ee Jeff Ses­sions.

And there’s likely more to come soon.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports that a draft of a sep­ar­ate Trump or­der would sus­pend is­su­ing visas to cit­izens of sev­en Muslim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries for at least 30 days.

Still, one House Re­pub­lic­an told re­port­ers Wed­nes­day that there’s a need for broad­er im­mig­ra­tion le­gis­la­tion that goes bey­ond just walls and de­port­a­tions.

“It’s not just about the wall. It’s not just about bor­der se­cur­ity. Once we have that done, we need to go to the second and third it­er­a­tions. How do we fix our im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem so that in 20, 30 years we’re not back here again?” Rep. Adam Kin­zinger told re­port­ers at the GOP re­treat in Phil­adelphia.

“And how do we deal with the folks that are here? You’re not go­ing to round up and de­port 15 mil­lion people. You have to have some kind of a path­way to leg­al­iz­a­tion,” he ad­ded.

Across Cap­it­ol Hill, GOP Sen. Thom Tillis has be­gun speak­ing with col­leagues from both parties to build sup­port for a broad set of im­mig­ra­tion meas­ures, in­clud­ing some form of leg­al status for im­mig­rants already here, that would be tackled in in­cre­ment­al stages, The Wall Street Journ­al re­por­ted this week.

For now, however, all that’s clear is that the or­ders have in­flamed ten­sions between Trump and Demo­crats, who blas­ted the White House in strong terms Wed­nes­day.

“As far as the wall is con­cerned, I sus­pect that a lot of Trump sup­port­ers would be just as happy with a big statue of a middle fin­ger poin­ted south, be­cause both that and a wall are about equally ef­fect­ive as na­tion­al se­cur­ity strategies,” said Demo­crat­ic Rep. Lu­is V. Gutiér­rez, who heads the im­mig­ra­tion task force for the Con­gres­sion­al His­pan­ic Caucus, in a lengthy state­ment on Trump’s ac­tions.

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