What’s Next for Immigration Reform After Trump Profanity?

The on-again, off-again effort to decide the future of almost 800,000 undocumented youths in the United States swung wildly from Thursday to Friday, with one of the top Republicans in Congress calling President Donald Trump’s reported use of an expletive to disparage some immigrants’ home countries “unfortunate” and “unhelpful.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan joined politicians from both parties who were critical of the president following the remark, made Thursday during a meeting on immigration policy at the White House. Trump allegedly referred to Haiti and African nations as “s—hole” countries.

While Trump denied the widely reported comment in a tweet, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, one of the top-ranking Democrats and a longtime supporter of immigration reform, said he “personally heard” the president’s comment, and that Trump had repeatedly used “hate-filled, vile and racist” words.

No one is denying, however, that Trump rejected a bipartisan immigration deal brought to him by six senators that addressed not only the now-ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but also the diversity lottery and temporary protected status programs, funding for border security, and some aspects of the family-based migration system. The deal was a nonstarter for conservative senators at the meeting and also for Trump.

“This is like throwing gasoline to the fire,” Representative Adriano Espaillat, a New York Democrat, said of Trump’s reported language. Espaillat immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic, located next to Haiti on the island of Hispaniola.

​A week to get it done

Next Friday is the deadline for Congress to pass a national budget, something many Democrats, whose votes are needed, have said they will not do unless there is a fix for DACA. Absent a budget, the federal government will have to shut down.

Durbin said Friday that he had hoped for White House approval of the bipartisan deal. Without it, “here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to prepare our bipartisan agreement for introduction into the Senate next week. If the Republican leadership has a better alternative, bring it forward. If they don’t, for goodness’ sake, give us a vote.”

He said he would be on the phone Friday “begging” his colleagues in both parties to support the measure.

But Trump, meanwhile, was disparaging the plan on Twitter as a “big step backwards.”

In a statement Friday, conservative Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia had a different take on the previous day’s meeting.

“What he did call out was the imbalance in our current immigration system, which does not protect American workers and our national interest. We, along with the president, are committed to solving an issue many in Congress have failed to deliver on for decades,” the statement said.

What now?

In a statement Friday, the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), which held events to help DACA applicants process their paperwork, said, “It is unacceptable that the president of the United States would attack a bipartisan effort with his racist, xenophobic, and ill-informed language and beliefs.”

One of the overarching questions as the vote on the federal budget approaches is which components of immigration reform and border security will be included.

NAKASEC joined other groups in calling for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act to be attached to the federal budget vote, in lieu of a massive reform bill that would include cuts to other aspects of the U.S. immigration system.

“The DREAM Act must not be used to implement a family ban by altering the current family sponsorship system, cancel the diversity visa program or allocate our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to building a wall,” the statement read.

Each of these issues has been discussed as a component — in some cases referred to as bargaining chips — of a broader reform package.

Trump has repeatedly expressed interest in restricting immigration levels. Republican lawmakers introduced legislation in 2017 that would cut or eliminate some long-standing parts of the U.S. immigration system, but none of the bills passed.

The White House has also led a nearly yearlong campaign to reduce the number of refugees allowed into the United States, as part of broader immigration restriction efforts.

The turmult comes after a court ruling earlier this week that buoyed the hopes of advocates for the DACA program, which Trump rescinded in September. As VOA reported Wednesday, a federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration to again process DACA renewal applications.

But recipients may not see any benefits soon, or at all. The ruling applies only to those who had been enrolled in DACA before Trump rescinded the program and does not apply to first-time applicants. Moreover, the Trump administration has already announced its intention to appeal.

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