President Trump may have hoped to increase pressure on congressional Democrats to accept other hardline elements of his immigration agenda this week by rescinding the program that has protected from deportation about 800,000 “Dreamers,” young people brought to the country illegally by their parents.
But it’s more likely Trump has triggered a process that will divide Republicans, further estrange him from the business community, and ultimately paralyze Congress, placing the issue of how to handle the “Dreamers” squarely back on his desk when his six-month deadline expires.
Even with the new element of Trump’s pledge to end former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, any congressional attempt to resolve DACA recipients’ situation faces the same daunting legislative geometry that doomed the last two major attempts at comprehensive immigration reform in 2006 and 2013.
Those two congressional battles followed remarkably similar tracks, although the political alignment was very different: In 2006, Republicans controlled the White House and the Senate and in 2013, the Democrats controlled both. Critically, though, Republicans held the House both times.
In both 2006 and 2013, a bipartisan group of Senators crafted legislation whose central beam balanced tougher enforcement measures with a pathway to citizenship for 10-11 million undocumented immigrants, so long as they met certain conditions such as learning English. (Around that centerpiece, both bills also explicitly legalized those brought to the U.S. illegally as children, established a guest-worker program, and reformed legal immigration.) Every concerned interest group gnashed their teeth over some element of that composition, but business, organized labor, and immigrant advocacy groups locked arms behind the final product.