For the past month and a half, Congress and the White House have been in a whirlwind of chaotic, divisive discussion and legislative gridlock over immigration. On January 30th, President Trump gave his second State of the Union address, in which he laid out a four-pillar outline for immigration reform. These four pillars included a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, a $25 billion budget for building his famous Mexican border wall and bolstering border security, elimination of the current visa lottery system in exchange for a “merit-based” system, and discontinuation of “chain-immigration”, more commonly known as “family-based immigration.” The boos and hisses of Democratic policymakers as Trump announced this plan foreshadowed the discord that would follow for weeks- discord which would reinforce the image many Americans already held of a divisive and ineffective Trump administration.
Trump’s plan is problematic on several fronts. Firstly, when he announced it, he did so with the intention of eventually eliminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act. This Obama-era legislation protected “Dreamers”, or people who were brought to America as children with illegal immigrant parents, from deportation and allowed them a work permit for up to two years; this status was renewable. Trump set a March 5th deadline for alternative DACA legislation; everyone in the chamber was aware of this when he announced his immigration plan. Therefore, his pitiful attempt at trying to make his plan appeasable to Democrats with the offer of citizenship for 1.8 million was likely interpreted as almost insulting because not only was the other 75% of the bill not at all aligned with their interests, the entire purpose of the bill was to replace one of the prides of the Obama administration. It is therefore odd at first glance that the Republicans also found reason to take issue with this immigration plan. Many right-wingers claimed that it goes back on his “no amnesty” campaign promise, saying he is being far too lenient in his attempt to appease Democrats. Due to this manifest discord, Trump’s original proposal to have some sort of immigration legislation resolution by February 8th is positively laughable.
The fact that Trump’s plan was unappealing to both sides of the legislative aisle led to gridlock. Additionally, despite it becoming increasingly clear that the February 8th deadline would not be reached unless one side started to give, the President furthered the gridlock by releasing a shockingly immature statement in which he noted, “If we don’t change it let’s have a shutdown. We’ll do a shutdown, and it’s worth it for our country.” He said this soon after the brief January government shutdown which was also due to Congressional gridlock over the issue of CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), health care taxes, and the Extension of Continuing Appropriations Act; while the country was still unpleasantly surprised from this exhibition of governmental inadequacy, Trump was calling for another one. This attitude did not help Trump’s case, for a government shutdown would be anything but “worth it” for our country; it was evident from the last one that no progress would be made as a direct result of a shutdown. This refusal to budge in the executive branch, coupled with Congressional Democrats’ hardline stance created a deadlocked government incapable of any significant progress.
Naturally, the American people felt exasperated and disdainful towards the incompetence their government demonstrated. After all, the familiarity of a Congress unable to get anything done was now supplemented by a president who offered a plan that nobody found satisfying. People have been channeling their frustration with Trump’s presidency through activism on a wide spectrum of social issues, and immigration is no exception. Since this issue in particular has created so much legislative discord, it has stretched past the aggravation of the public and created resistance within state governments as well. California in particular has put up a strong fight; for example, Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf actually issued a warning on Twitter to families in her city about upcoming arrests for illegal immigrants carried out by a federal immigration agency. She unsurprisingly attracted a lot of criticism from the federal government for this action, particularly once it was revealed that about eight hundred people avoided arrest thanks to her warning. Additionally, the California attorney general was quoted as calling DACA’s actions fully legal and Trump’s attempts to end it fully illegal. Both instances demonstrate a significant and worrisome disunity between federal and state governments.
A somewhat significant aspect of this debate is its multi-sidedness. Unlike many issues that result in a deadlocked Congress, there is not simply a red side and a blue side. Different Republicans and Democrats are calling for different types of amendments made to Trump’s proposal. On February 19th, four different attempts were made at passing immigration bills through the Senate. Examining each of these proposals makes it easy to see the different areas where policymakers harbor concerns. The first one, sponsored by Chris Coons and John McCain in a valuable show of bipartisanship, called for a removal of the wall from Trump’s original plan. Republican senator Pat Toomey offered a proposal that removed federal funding from sanctuary cities that do not enforce federal immigration policy. There was another bipartisan effort made by the Common Sense Caucus and prevented DACA recipients from sponsoring their parents’ attainment of legal status in addition to Trump’s previous provisions of citizenship for 1.8 million DREAMers and providing $25 billion for the border wall. The fourth attempt was led by Senator Charles Grasley; this one most closely replicated Trump’s plan and was backed by the White House. Each of these addressed what could be called nuances but are in reality massive aspects of a bill that will affect millions of lives, and they demonstrated the divided interests scattered throughout Congress on this issue. They all also reemphasized the lack of fulfillment Trump’s original plan provided on several different levels. Further, the failure of all four plans to pass through the Senate made the quest for satisfactory immigration legislation appear to be in its most fruitless state yet.
The most recent relevant immigration development is somewhat paradoxical in that it shuts down Trump’s endeavors for a bit longer, but it is at least the first decisive step taken in this realm in months. On Monday February 26th , the Supreme Court refused to review the order of a federal judge that DACA continue under the Trump administration. Their denial leaves DACA in place and took away the issue of the March 5th deadline for DACA legislation that Trump had previously set in place. The case will run its normal course through the US Court of Appeals as opposed to returning to high court in the spring. Obviously, this is a huge step backwards for Trump’s administration both on a policy level and in terms of public image. The action shows that he lacks full support from either of the other two government branches on this issue and reemphasizes the apparent inability of his administration to accomplish anything in a timely manner. Trump undoubtedly will push for his proposal’s reappearance in the SCOTUS, but in the meantime, he has been definitively shut down.
Overall, the entire month-and-a-half ordeal took up government time and resources and accomplished next to nothing. If anything, it reinforced the conception in the country that grows stronger every day: Congress is unable to accomplish nearly anything due to vicious partisanship and poor negotiation skills. Further, in this particular situation, an ineffective Congress served as the direct result of an ineffective executive branch. Trump’s immigration plan proposal led not only to continuous, frustrating futility in Congress but also tension between state and federal governments. When these factors were combined with the loss of his March 5th deadline and his tasteless reactions throughout the entire process, the situation portrayed him as incompetent and cantankerous, adding to what many consider an already extremely negative image of his presidency.