Increasingly it appears that the midterm election will be a referendum on the issue of immigration.
Both parties seem fine with this.
The controversy surrounding family separations at the Mexican border has subsided somewhat, with President Trump signing an executive order as a temporary fix. Predictably, Congress has done nothing to address the issue.
The family separation issue required the Trump administration to make a difficult choice: enforce the law as it is written or continue the much-criticized policy of “catch and release.”
There is no question that the Trump White House underestimated the backlash to its shift in enforcement policy, resulting in a rare backtrack from the president. It would be to everyone’s advantage if officials can now reunify these children with their families as quickly as possible.
But it is not that simple.
The government must confirm that the parent and the child are in fact related, which is not as easy as it may sound. If all the parent has are documents from their home country, it may take time to verify the documents. The logistical issues involved with unifying around 1,800 children with their parents are significant as well. Add to that the very real concern of where to house these families as the parent goes through the legal system.
More broadly, the Trump administration in the longer term is confident that it has a majority of the country behind them on several key immigration questions, with new polls suggesting the issue is rising to the top of voter concerns this fall.
Mr. Trump and his advisers believe a majority of voters want more effective border security, with reinforced fencing for now and a border wall in urban areas as soon as funding can be secured. They also think a majority wants an end to catch-and-release, which makes a mockery of our justice system and the rule of law.
They further believe a majority want E-Verify, so employers can know — and will be forced to determine — whether they are hiring illegal labor.
They believe a majority of Americans want to move away from relative-based chain migration to a merit-based system, as the U.K., Canada and Australia now have. Nuclear family members would still be eligible to legally immigrate here, but not the far reaches of an extended family.
Mr. Trump and his aides believe there’s a majority in the country strongly opposed to sanctuary cities, which defy federal authority and needlessly endanger the public.
They believe a majority opposes any effort to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which provides interior enforcement throughout the country, despite the calls from prominent Democrats in recent days to abolish the agency.
That’s all clear and straightforward. The big question is, What do Democrats believe?
The #AbolishICE movement is catching fire on the left, and Democratic elected officials are scrambling to align themselves with it or find some flexible formulation to avoid taking a stand.
The Democrats clearly oppose a Mexican border wall. Do they believe security along the border is adequate now? If not, what are they prepared to support?
Democrats want to continue the current chain migration system. My guess is that they’re betting a massive amnesty program will eventually come to pass, creating at a stroke potentially 10 million to 12 million likely new Democratic voters.
And how do Democrats explain why a merit-based immigration system would not be better for our economy and our country?
There is consensus in Washington that our current legal immigration system is broken. It takes far too long to come here legally, which makes illegal entry attractive.
We desperately need visa reform, as we are currently educating some of the brightest minds in the world, who are then virtually forced to leave America rather than stay here and become the leading doctors, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs of the next generation.
President Trump made a good-faith offer to help the children who were receiving benefits from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but Democrats refused to move in his direction at all. At some political risk, he put a “path to citizenship” on the table for those children, a position that made many conservatives recoil.
In return, congressional Democrats made a bad-faith offer of an “authorization” for the border wall, knowing that appropriating actual money is what really matters.
Immigration can be a winning issue for Mr. Trump and the Republicans this fall, provided they play the coming months right.
First, they must reunify the children to put that issue completely behind them. For a permanent fix, Congress must act. The Cruz-Feinstein legislative compromise has a good chance of becoming that legislative vehicle.
Second, Republicans need to define the choice that voters have before them. Republicans are in favor of legal immigration, public safety, the rule of law and sensible reform. Democrats want to abolish ICE, block measures to strengthen border security and support sanctuary cities.
For voters, it shouldn’t be a hard choice.
• Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. His “Mack on Politics” podcast is available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and on WashingtonTimes.com.
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