Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

Jonathan S. Tobin offers this insight into the state of play of the DACA debate: 

"Though Schumer and Pelosi may think widespread public support for relief for the Dreamers gives their party the whip hand in talks with Trump, the Democrats actually have little leverage over the president on this issue. If they want a legislative fix that keeps DACA alive, they are going to have to make substantial concessions to the White House and the Republican congressional leadership -- both of which need to show the GOP base that they are serious about curbing illegal immigration."

Predictably, most media coverage has ignored the public's interest in curbing illegal immigration. As a result, the conventional media wisdom is that Trump is being unreasonable by demanding measures to reduce illegal immigration (and prevent the parents of DACA recipients from benefitting from their unlawful actions) in exchange for a legislative amnesty. Tobin disagrees:

"By offering the Democrats a deal on DACA, Trump has defined the issue of illegal immigration on terms that expose the Democrats' problem. If their belief is that any efforts to curb illegal immigration -- especially the surge of children from Central America arriving without parents -- or to stop illegal immigrants from bringing in their entire families are unacceptable, then they have staked out a position that is not nearly as much in tune with public opinion as one focused on relief for the sympathetic Dreamers. It's one thing to shame Trump over his statements about Charlottesville and his various comments about Mexicans and Muslims. But to treat border security as if it were evidence of racism, as the resistance seems to want to do, is quite another."

To read any news story about the DACA debate is to understand the urgency many feel to provide something permanent for the recipients of that soon-to-be-phased-out program. Now read it again and look for any sign that anyone involved in the story feels an equal urgency to prevent the same situation from repeating itself over and over again.

In May of last year, T.A. Frank ("The Democratic Case for Restricting Immigration") made this 2016-election prediction

"If the question about immigration policy becomes one of being pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant, then Clinton will be helped in the general election. By contrast, if the question becomes one of being for immigration control or being for open borders, then Clinton will be hurt -- perhaps hurt enough to lose."

Trump won 64% of voters who said immigration was the "most important issue" -- and the White House.

Immigration polling can produce wildly different results depending on how the questions are asked but it is safe to say that two things are clear: 1) American voters like immigrants and immigration, and 2) They want controlled immigration.

In the aftermath of the election, several left-of-center pundits weighed in on the failure of the Democratic Party (and the media) to appreciate the second point. Trump's crass campaign rhetoric would have derailed any other candidate, but as President Obama said the day after the election:

"It's going to be important for Democrats and immigration-rights activists to recognize that for the majority of the American people, borders mean something."

Kelli Goff of the Daily Beast put it like this on the podcast Left, Right and Center:

"...Those of us in media got a lot wrong in the last election...but one thing I did see coming is that I did feel that there was a huge disconnect between progressives and members of the media were reading how the issue of illegal immigration was playing for Trump....

"....I knew for a fact that there are plenty of really great people, including members of my own family, who feel strongly about wanting people treated humanely but they didn't like the attitude that seemed to be the policy position of the Obama administration which is if someone breaks the law "only" - quote, unquote - once by coming into this country illegally, we should look the other way because the Obama administration has decided that's not a real crime. A lot of Americans don't agree with that....

"...And so they are less concerned about the mother who chose to come to this country illegally as an adult, who chose to put her children in this precarious position by having them after she had already come here illegally, but they are worried about that mother's four kids not being deported because they would be 'Dreamers'."

Widespread sympathy for Dreamers does not necessarily translate into support for the Dreamers' demands which, as the New York Times reported earlier this month are putting Democrats in a difficult position:

"The pressure from some immigrant activists to reject any compromise that would tighten border security has frustrated Democratic leaders, who recognize the political risks of being labeled the party of open borders -- a potentially lethal tag as they seek to regain support from working-class voters across the Midwest."

The Times has been one of the few papers that has periodically considered these risks. But even here, the reporters downplay those risks by suggesting that opposition to open borders is limited to those confounding "working-class voters across the Midwest." Hardly. The Times itself ran a story this spring about East coast, urban-living, middle-class naturalized citizens who -- just like those toiling away in fly-over country -- want immigration control:

"Mr. Pal is a Democrat, like most Indian-Americans. He voted for Mrs. Clinton. But in the rush to oppose Mr. Trump, he believes, Democrats moved too far left on immigration.

"It wasn’t always like this. In 1996, President Bill Clinton talked about illegal immigration as a problem.

"But now the talk is of sanctuary, which Mr. Pal believes would amount to an invitation. “Do we really want more illegal immigrants in our country?” he said. “I don’t think the answer is yes.”

"And he is happy that illegal border crossings have declined. “I don’t want to sound like a Trump supporter, but something is working,” he said."

That was in May. Illegal border crossings increased over the summer (when they typically fall). Trump's rhetoric isn't enough to overcome the lure of a U.S. job, and it is just as easy for employers to illegally hire unauthorized workers today as it was in 2009 when Sen. Schumer said enforced workplace verification was "necessary to significantly diminish the job magnet that attracts illegal aliens to the United States."

Fast forward to earlier this month when, bowing to the Dreamers' demands, Schumer told reporters that E-Verify couldn't be part of a DACA package. What are the New York Times' Midwesterners to make of that?

By all appearances, the politics and media coverage of this is playing out just like immigration did in the presidential election except that this time around there is very little daylight between Trump and his opponents when it comes to praise for the Dreamers.

In the chasm between the two sides are the questions about immigration control. In their joint statement on the Trump administration's immigration principles, Pelosi and Schumer described the proposed enforcement measures as "anathema to the Dreamers, to the immigrant community and to the vast majority of Americans."

Based on Schumer's comments to reporters, that would include E-Verify, the "necessary" measure to discourage illegal immigration that an overwhelming majority of Americans support. The media didn't notice. Trump (or someone advising Trump) did. 

After being heckled by Dreamer activists for negotiating with the Trump administration, Pelosi told reporters that the Democrats' goal was to pass a "clean" Dreamer legalization (i.e. one without any enforcement add ons). 

To recap: The House Minority Leader says the goal is to pass a legalization without any measures to control illegal immigration and the Senate Minority Leader says that the very measure he considers necessary to discourage illegal immigration must not be included in any deal.

After the Trump administration released its immigration priorities and principles this week, story after story focused on the idea the wish list was masterminded by Stephen Miller as a plot to kill a DACA bill by insisting on immigration enforcement. I think the press gave short shrift to Schumer who perfectly explained how to kill an amnesty back in 2009:

"Illegal immigration is wrong, plain and simple. Until the American people are convinced that we will stop future flows of illegal immigration, we will make no progress on dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants who are hear now - and on rationalizing our system of legal immigration. That's plain and simple and unavoidable."

If I had to bet, I'd bet that Schumer is going to prove himself right.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA

Updated: Thu, Oct 26th 2017 @ 12:40pm EDT

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