House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that there’s no need to tackle immigration or gun reform as part of a sweeping spending package poised for a vote as early as next week.
“None of these bills has to be part of the omnibus,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. She’s urging the Republicans to bring those issues to the floor as separate, stand-alone bills — a strategy GOP leaders have repeatedly refused.
This does not show a lack of nerve, nor a lack of confidence in the public’s support for her legislative goals. (To the contrary, support for gun-safety laws and for “dreamers” has never been higher.) Rather, it is a recognition that a shutdown strategy under any circumstance is a no-win proposition; a shutdown strategy from the minority is pointless. Whichever party mounts a shutdown is immediately put on defense and told to reopen the government before its issue (e.g. Obamacare repeal, dreamers) can be addressed. The merits of the party’s cause go out the window as the discussions turn to “holding the government hostage.”
With this president and his staff of virulent anti-immigrant zealots, a deal on dreamers that does not include utterly unacceptable conditions (e.g. cutting legal immigration) is unattainable, especially with court decisions temporarily staying suspension of the program.
What, then, are advocates for legalizing participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to do? They might consider a four-pronged approach.
First, it behooves Democrats to spend every available dollar to register and turn out to vote young Americans and Hispanics, both of whom are sympathetic to dreamers but who generally do not turn out in midterm races. Changing the makeup of the electorate in Texas, Florida and Arizona — as well as in California congressional districts with vulnerable GOP incumbents (e.g. Devin Nunes) — will do more to further the cause of immigration reform than anything else.
Second, Republicans from places such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (where President Trump won) are more likely to be constructive when it comes to DACA if they see their electorate getting younger and less white, and — this is key — if business in their states and big donors around the country start making a really big deal about dreamers. The trade issue should be edifying: When Republicans think that the economy is at risk, businesses may leave and donors may check out, they are going to be a lot more inclined to compromise. (Big defeats also encourage the survivors to compromise.)
Just as the Koch brothers and entities they fund got energized over tariffs, they must be just as engaged in the immigration debate. Furthermore, unless manufacturing, white-collar, agriculture and service industry employers in Republicans’ home states make this an issue on economic grounds (i.e. business cannot prosper in an atmosphere of mass deportations and immigration restrictionism), Republicans will give no ground.
Third, immigration activists have let the anti-immigrant crowd run away with the national security and safety issues on immigration-related issues. That’s a mistake. The facts are actually on the side of pro-immigration activists. The Muslim ban does not make us safer; in fact, we need American Muslim communities to work hand in glove with law enforcement to spot and prevent radicalization among young people. The same holds true on crime. Cities that do not want to do Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) work for the agency (by holding suspected undocumented immigrants, turning them over to the feds without warrants, etc.) are taking this stance in part because they must create an environment in which immigrants will report crimes and cooperate in catching and trying criminals. This is why local and state law enforcement generally (not everywhere, certainly) do not want to be dragooned into rounding up undocumented immigrants and facilitating their deportation; in the end, it makes their jobs harder.
The successes that big cities have had in reducing crime, especially violent crime, should be highlighted — and proffered as evidence that prioritizing public safety (not acting as ICE’s minions) makes the country safer. Likewise, aggressively challenging the administration’s deportation of non-criminals is essential if pro-immigrant activists are to make the case that we are safer when authorities are focused on dangerous criminals, not on chemistry teachers.
Finally, immigration activists need to do a much better job of explaining that immigrants are a vital part of local economies, and in many cases have revitalized areas where economic blight and declining populations were the norm. If hundreds of thousands of consumers, workers and students disappear, we are all going to be poorer, not richer. It is time to stop conceding the economic argument to cranks, extremists and zero-population-growth zealots.
In short, so long as Trump and GOP majorities in the House and Senate remain — and remain the captives of the anti-immigrant far right — there is little hope for progress on dreamers, let alone on a comprehensive immigration bill. If activists want a DACA fix, a humane enforcement program and robust legal immigration, they are going to have to defeat anti-immigrant members of Congress and ultimately dislodge Trump. They will need to engage business — not just Silicon Valley — in GOP strongholds. Finally, they would do well to take back national security and economic prosperity arguments, making their case to voters, state and local leaders, civic groups and employers. The public is with them on much of the pro-immigrant agenda, but that support needs to translate into votes and messages that include — and go well beyond — appeals to social justice.