Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) came up with a very workable bipartisan immigration proposal. I say workable because it represents what both parties say they advocate for–with each giving in.

However, that it will not become law tell us that Republicans (outside of Tillis and far less than 9 other Republicans) really are not serious about border solutions. They would prefer to keep the border politically active for election purposes.

The Proposal has three components.

First, it includes a version of the DREAM Act. the DREAM Act gives permanent legal status and a pathway to citizenship to children brought to the United States without legal authority. The DREAM Act used to have strong bipartisan support, Sen. Orin Hatch of Utah was one of its early proponents as was Arizona Sen. John McCain. Illinois Sen. Dick Durban has been on the issue now for two decades. However, the Republican party has kept moving away for acknowledging any legal status for anyone without it, even children who grew up here, so reaching 60 votes has been elusive. However, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the 2012 Obama Administration program, is in increasingly legal trouble coming out of the conservative Fifth circuit in Texas. The Fifth Circuit has ruled DACA was not added properly (violating the Administrative Procedures Act) and it is substantively in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (remember the Supreme Court only reinstated DACA because the Trump failed to follow proper procedure to get rid of it). On Oct. 31, a new rule from the Biden Administration went into effect replacing the Obama era rule on DACA that may deal with the procedural part but the substantive issue remains.

Long story short–DACA could be ruled illegal and the status of 600,000 recipients placed into turmoil just when many recipients are launching careers legally under DACA. Because new applicants into DACA have been blocked in recent years by the Trump Administration or now the 5th District’s court action, there is a much wider group that could benefit from the DREAM Act, up to 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and twice that many who entered before their 18th birthday.

Second, it extends Title 42 by one year but also greatly expands the capacity to deal with people seeking amnesty. Title 42 is the health-related order that was used by the Trump Administration to justify during the pandemic turning people away at the border who sought amnesty. These generally occur when immigrants show up at a border crossing and turn themselves in. Before Title 42 was used, Title 8 was used which gave procedural rights to applicants–which might mean they could have a temporary permission to live and work in the United States (the book Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue takes you though this scenario). Alternatively under the Trump Administration’s remain in Mexico program, applicants could be forced to stay in Mexico awaiting hearings. In Phoenix, you may recall Immigration and Customs Enforcement bringing buses of immigrants to stay with faith communities before connecting with family members somewhere in the country.

The Sinema-Tillis framework then takes the piece that Sinema and Texas Senator John Cornyn pushed to vastly expand the Dept. of Homeland Security’s ability to handle asylum seekers by developing Regional Processing Centers. By adding resources and better protections to the asylum process, it deals with an underlying challenge.

Third, it provides more support for border patrol. Turnover among border patrol with its remote assignments is fairly common–as officers gain experience so they can move to local police or other security positions in the federal government. The proposal would lift their pay by 14%. It would also raise the number of positions, setting a 20,500 minimum staffing level and hire an additional 600 officers annually. These are the kinds of border enforcement measures Republicans presumably would support.

So it addresses DACA/DREAMERs, a one-time bipartisan goal, now primarily advocated by Democrats. It addresses the “invasion” of asylum seekers, one of the chief concerns of Republicans in particular, but also Democrats and extends Title 42 for a year–something Republicans desire (otherwise it is expiring Dec. 21 by court order, though Chief Justice Roberts has extended this). It also improves border enforcement resources.

In other times-this should be a slam dunk win-win.

It had two ways to pass. One was to get tucked into the end of the year omnibus spending bill. This would have been the preferred route.

That failed when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to include it. He, of course, is eyeing a 2024 Senate map that is more favorable to Republicans, so better to work toward a majority than put forward solutions.

The other way forward requires 60 votes to get around a cloture vote in the Senate. Here Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is instructive. One might think that Sen. Cornyn who supports the asylum processing improvements to be on board, but no, he says, “It’s not going anywhere.”

Cornyn is way out line with Texas voters, including his voters here.

A poll of Texans this month shows strong support for all elements of this bill. 79% support citizenship for DREAMers, if they attend college or serve in the military and pay back taxes (69% for Republicans and self-described conservatives). Seventy-eight percent (11% opposed) want to spend more on facilities and officers and judges to process asylum claims and admit or expel asylum seekers more quickly. Seventy-six percent (to 14%) want more funding for border patrol to hire more officers and to pay officers more. Collectively, Texas voters support the entire package 73% to 16%.

In essence Republicans have decided they’d rather symbolically protest Biden’s perceived inadequacies in border enforcement (for 2024) than actually put forward reasonable solutions.

With Kevin McCarthy selling his soul for the Speakership of an incoming slim Republican majority in the House come January, he’s already promised not to push forward on immigration reform to placate the far right in his caucus.

So this month is the last chance for at least two years to deal with immigration. Sadly due to Republican resistance it won’t happen…again.

By Dave Wells

Dave Wells holds a Ph.D. in Political Economy and Public Policy. He frequently sought out for his political and policy expertise. He is now a retired teaching professor at Arizona State University where he taught American government regularly. He co-founded and serves as research director for the Grand Canyon Institute. The views expressed are his own.

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