Some immigration reform advocates say GOP leadership is working to block President-elect Donald Trump’s pro-American immigration reforms by building its own wall of do-little legislation and do-nothing rhetoric.
The GOP leadership is pushing a “phony enforcement posture,” says Dan Stein, director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. But, he added, “the public has shown it will not be fooled by head-fakes and symbolic gestures.”
Trump already has the legal authority to accomplish most of what he promised, so “Congress should be focusing on [funding Trump’s promises], on reforming the H-1B [guest worker] program to better protect American workers, passing [mandatory] E-Verify [legislation] to prevent illegal immigrants from getting jobs … [and] to reduce the overwhelming legal immigration numbers that bring in millions of new foreign workers,”said Chris Chmielenski, at NumbersUSA, an immigration reform group.
Congress’ focus on other issues, he said, “shows the lack of willingness on the part of the GOP leadership to take the situation seriously,” despite Trump’s election.
However, GOP Rep. Mo Brooks, an immigration moderate from Alabama, says the attitudes of the GOP leaders will be exposed once Trump sends immigration reform legislation to the Hill in late January. In the past, he said, the leaders have supported “open borders and amnesty,” but the election may have shown them how immigration has hurt Americans jobs and wages, he told Breitbart News.
On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan told CBS that he won’t fund a comprehensive repatriation program, according to anchor Scott Pelley. “The Speaker of the House told us to today that when it comes to deporting 11 million immigrants, it’s not going to happen, and he won’t fund it,” said Pelley.
Ryan is also pushing the House to work on controversial legislation that would revamp the popular Medicare program, and on complex tax-cutting legislation.
On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy said the Hill should focus on GOP Rep. Mike McCaul’s border spending bill. That’s a “good place to start,” he said, adding “I don’t think anything changes on immigration until we secure the border.”
That focus on the McCaul bill alarming to reformers, because McCaul’s bill would make minor improvements to border security at a cost of $1 billion per year — and do nothing to build a long wall, or to penalize companies which hire low-wage illegals instead of young Americans. In fact, McCaul’s bill was voted down in 2015 by opposition from the GOP’s rank-and-file members.
The bill is a “moldy fig leftover from the previous Congress,” said Stein.
McCaul’s bill is a “shiny object” to distract attention from the GOP’s opposition to Trump’s pro-American agenda, said Chmielenski. “What they really want to do is to increase the Guest Worker programs because that serves their business interests,” he said.
Worse still, Trump met with McCaul to size him up for the job of running the Department of Homeland Security, which would be responsible for implementing Trump’s campaign promises.
McCaul’s legislation “was a complete fake,” said D.A. King, a Georgia-based immigration reformer. McCaul “is not someone I want in DHS,” he added.
McCaul told FOX News on Wednesday that he talked with Trump, saying “I’ve been consistently the biggest on the Hill to secure the border, and I talked to Mr. Trump about how we can secure the border, once and for all, and building the wall. Countless times I’ve stood up to defend the United States against terror coming in,” he said.
When asked about cooperation between Speaker Ryan and Trump, McCaul said “I think there’s going to be great synergy … I think what we will be doing is looking at how do we build the wall, secure the border, how do we deport criminal aliens … how do we close terror pathways into the United States.”
McCaul downplayed the proposed wall, and did not mention Trump’s promise to protect Americans from the cheap-labor immigration that is strongly favored by Ryan, by most of the GOP caucus and by the GOP’s donors.
In the campaign, Trump promised to curb legal immigration policies and to reduce work visas—such as the H-1B visa—that disadvantage Americans. “I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program,” he said in a March 2016 statement. “No exceptions,” he added.
That agenda can’t be accomplished without enthusiastic support from the Secretary at the DHS.
Top officials at the DHS have the day-to-day power to strengthen or weaken border protections against illegal immigration, to decide whether illegal immigrants are ignored or are sent back to their homes, and whether the legal immigration and guest-worker programs are accelerated or curbed. Those legal programs annually import a population of more than 1 million legal immigrants, plus more than 1 million white-collar and blue-collar temporary workers, who collectively take good jobs sought by Americans, lower wages and transfer an estimated $500 billion from wages into profits for Wall Street.
GOP leaders, said Chmielenski, “don’t really care about enforcement in the interior because as they see it, illegal immigration helps the companies that donate to their campaigns.”
“I don’t doubt that Mr. McCaul wants to secure the homeland” from terrorists, said Jessica Vaughan, the policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies. “But in my observation, he has not been particularly aggressive or forceful enough in pushing back against President [Barack] Obama’s dismantling of [immigration law] enforcement,” she said.
“The legislation he’s put forward in his committee has been very weak,” she said. In 2015, for example, his border legislation “was a diversionary tactics so [GOP leaders] could say they had done something without doing anything [and say] ‘Now we can move to amnesty or increased guest workers.’”
The McCaul bill now being revived by the leaders shows they want to “throw a few bricks down, throw a few dollars down and call it it a day,” said Stein. “That’s not adequate,” he added. “The place where the Republican leadership should be is simple — [saying] ‘We’re going to take our lead from President Trump,'” Stein said.
The do-little-and-slowly message is also being pushed by GOP Senators. “We need to secure the border and we need to enforce the law in regards to people with criminal records who are illegally in this country,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the deputy GOP leader in the Senate, said this week.”Then we can have a further conversation,” he added, effectively foreclosing any of the chance to guest-worker and employer laws sought by Trump.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune is another top GOP leader in the Senate, and he doesn’t want to talk about helping American workers and professionals from cheap-labor immigration. “I think border security and the wall are going to be the priority in any debate about immigration,” he said, without offering to strengthen worker protections against cheap labor.
Thune and others are even trying to undermine Trump’s promise to build a combined wall and fence, and are instead pushing a so-called “virtual wall” that than be quietly shut down by the next President. “There’s the virtual wall, the technological wall, the real wall, the fencing — there are lots of permutations of this now being batted around … I’m not sure exactly what it looks like,” said Thune.
Trump’s deputy, Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, told CBS on Thursday that Trump’s policies will be supported by the GOP legislators:
We’re going to get a tremendous amount of support from members on the Hill for border security, for strengthening internal enforcement, expanding our border agencies … identifying and prioritizing the removal from this country of criminal illegal aliens, [and] those who have overstayed their visas, and I’m very confidant that we will have broad-based support in the Congress for what the President-elect outlined in the course of his campaign and we’re going to work every day to ensure that we advance those policies and end illegal immigration one and for all.
Pence’s use of the terms “internal enforcement” and “overstayed their visas” implies he expects to be able to enforce current laws against illegal immigration. But Pence did not mention the annual inflow of 1 million legal immigrants, and the 1 million temporary workers that displace Americans from good jobs and also reduces their wages.