Political Insider

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The price for 'dream kids' could be David Perdue's immigration bill


Huddled masses yearning to breathe free may be about to take it in the neck.

That could be the price for saving nearly 800,000 “dream kids” from the threat of deportation. If you’re David Perdue, that’s a fair trade.

Heads, most of them Republican, are still spinning from Wednesday’s White House meeting between Donald Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress. A meeting in which the president appeared to pledge his support for legislation to salvage the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program established by President Barack Obama.

At least that was the line from Democrats.

“We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides,” the minority leaders of the House and Senate — Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, respectively — in a joint statement after a rather strange meal.

Chocolate pie after Chinese?

The reaction from the anti-immigration wing of the GOP was withering. “Amnesty Don,” shouted Breitbart.com. “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?” Tweeted the demanding Ann Coulter. “@POTUS needs to keep his promises,” warned Sean Hannity, the anchor of the Fox News “opinion show.”

Trump appeared to backtrack the next morning. “No deal was made last night on DACA,” he said on Twitter. The wall “will continue to be built,” he assured the faithful.

And then the president whiplashed fervent Trumpists with this: “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?”

In fact, there might have been some misdirection. But there was no back-tracking.

Here’s something you may not have known: A few hours before Chuck and Nancy sat down with Donald, their new BFF, David Perdue, R-Ga., and Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, on Wednesday conducted a mini-seminar for the rest of Senate Republican caucus.

It was a refresher course on the details of the pair’s bill to enact a profound change in U.S. immigration policy that would put a greater emphasis on the job skills and education levels of foreigners over family ties. Legal immigration would be cut by half in just a few years. A hard cap would be put on refugees.

Only a few hours later, as he exited the Chocolate Pie Summit, U.S. Rep. Henry Cueller, D-Texas, said Trump had countered during the bargaining session not with a wall, but with elements of the Perdue/Cotton bill.

Another sign that we may be headed for a shotgun marriage of DACA with the Perdue/Cotton RAISE Act came with a Friday morning Tweet from the president: “CHAIN MIGRATION cannot be allowed to be part of any legislation on Immigration!”

Tightly restricting the ability of new American citizens to bring in family members is at the heart of the Perdue/Cotton bill. Which Trump endorsed last month.

The DACA concession isn’t a gift to Democrats. It is the first part of the transaction. Let us take Schumer and Pelosi at their words and accept that Trump’s “big beautiful wall” will not be part of the deal.

This makes good political sense. At its core, the wall is a budget issue. Which makes it a different animal from what a DACA fix would become.

What other immigration-related issues are out there? The deportation of 11 million illegal immigrants said to live here is something every Democrat – and most Republicans – oppose. And sacrificing millions for 800,000 makes no sense, mathematically or morally.

An end to birth-right citizenship? That’s a constitutional issue and so, again, a different animal.

The only bargaining chip left on the table is the Perdue/Cotton bill. Its “like-for-like” nature makes it attractive. “Dream kids” – who are young adults now – could be given legal status in this country. But at the same time, Republicans could put restrictions on their ability to serve as a touchstone for relatives.

The Perdue/Cotton bill has many critics, even among conservatives. The Cato Institute disputes the senators’ contention that American wages can be raised by limiting the entry of unskilled labor.

Already, the U.S. has become a low-birth rate country, an unhealthy situation for a growing economy. Between 1990 and 2015, the only thing that kept a 4 percent drop in births in the U.S. from becoming a 10 percent drop was an increase in children born to immigrant mothers, according to a Pew Research Center report made public last month.

The point is that nearly every aspect of the Perdue/Cotton bill is amenable to negotiation, so long as Trump can retain the loyalty of his base of supporters.

Another aspect that could make this deal politically possible: If the Labor Party in Britain is any example, Democrats might be willing to accept some new restrictions on immigration in order to win back lost white voters.

In the snap election called by Prime Minister Theresa May this spring, intended to bolster Conservatives during the coming Brexit negotiations, Labor enjoyed a surprising surge — in part by conceding an end to the right of free movement between British citizens and those remaining in the European Union.

At the same time, Labor promised to guarantee the rights of European Union citizens already living in Britain. The DACA parallel is there.

Whether true or not, many white blue-collar workers – a constituency lost by Democrats in the U.S. – believe that their stagnant position in society can be linked to the demographic changes now occurring in the U.S.

Richard Ray is president emeritus of the Georgia State AFL-CIO, but he is still a member of the Democratic National Committee. After the Trump-Pelosi-Schumer dinner on Wednesday, I rang up Ray to ask whether his AFL-CIO friends might accept restrictions on immigration as part of a DACA deal.

Members of public employee and manufacturing unions might be lukewarm to the idea, he said. But building trade unions – roofers, bricklayers and the like — would be on board.

“The argument has to be, in exchange for DACA, let’s not let so many in. That would be a trade-off,” Ray said.


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About the Author

Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.