“I don’t think the public is going to tolerate us ignoring this crisis,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) recently argued, insisting this must be resolved before Congress can “do anything meaningful on immigration.”
A new poll from NPR provides a useful corrective to this argument. It suggests majorities do not see the border “crisis” as an impediment to acting on other fronts regarding immigration.
But unfortunately, Democrats are concluding that the Republican devotion to that talking point is rendering action increasingly unlikely on a very pressing immigration issue: the fate of “dreamers” brought to the United States illegally as children.
In a world in which both parties acted in good faith, the NPR poll would reassure Republicans. It finds that 55 percent of Americans think current numbers of migrants encountered at the border is a “major problem,” but it also finds that 66 percent of Americans favor giving the dreamers a legal way to earn citizenship.
This suggests that a large majority doesn’t see the migrant influx as an impediment to acting on the dreamers, even if many Americans see that influx as a serious problem. This badly complicates the GOP argument. Yet that argument is holding up action on the dreamers.
In the Senate, a group of Republicans and Democrats have been searching for a bipartisan compromise to provide a path to legalization for around 2 million dreamers. The thinking of Democrats is that if Republicans can support anything on immigration, it’s this.
After all, some GOP senators have already come out for doing something to legalize the dreamers. It’s a no-brainer because dreamers were brought here through no fault of their own. They’re thoroughly American, having spent much of their lives here. This shouldn’t be difficult for the GOP base to accept.
But Democrats and advocates involved in the talks are growing increasingly pessimistic that anything is going to happen.
The first reason for this is that Republicans appear to be demanding a wholesale gutting of our asylum system in exchange for any action on the dreamers. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a key player in the talks, has been pushing a bill that would require asylum seekers to apply from processing centers abroad, essentially barring them from applying at our border.
This would, in effect, end an important humanitarian commitment, the one dictating that desperate people seeking refuge here have a right to a fair hearing.
Right now, the Biden administration is badly violating this commitment by indefensibly using a coronavirus-related health ban to expel most asylum seekers without due process. But his administration has pledged to eventually end this, though officials won’t say when.
People familiar with the Senate talks tell me Republicans are increasingly fixating on this core demand as a precondition for any action on the dreamers.
“Everyone believes the dreamers should have a chance at citizenship, and we should just get that done,” Kerri Talbot, deputy director of the Immigration Hub, told me. “Republicans are focused on politicizing the border and making unreasonable demands on asylum.”
“Their lack of seriousness makes getting a bipartisan deal difficult,” added Talbot, who’s lobbying for the dreamers.
The second reason Democrats fear a deal is slipping away is GOP devotion to the talking point that nothing can happen until there’s an end to what Republicans keep calling a “border crisis.”
The problem is obvious: Republicans have already telegraphed that they hope to use the border to win back the House in 2022, which requires . . . Republicans to keep saying the border is out of control. Democrats fear Republicans will never abandon this position.
“They’re setting up a straw man that they can’t knock down,” one senior Senate Democratic aide told me. “We’ve seen this Republican campaign ad before, and we know how it ends.”
What’s particularly galling is that there will never come any point at which Republicans will ever allow that the border is not in “crisis.”
To be clear, the challenges at the border are still severe, and the humanitarian situation involving migrant kids and teens is still terrible. But there are some signs the situation might be on track to getting managed.
Yet Republicans have constructed their political argument in a way that doesn’t permit for that outcome to ever be acknowledged, even if it is achieved. And so, given how much they’ve staked on that argument, it’s hard to see them getting to yes on the dreamers anytime soon.