Amnesty Don. That’s what Steve Bannon and Breitbart News called President Donald Trump after news came out that the president and the Democratic leadership of Congress brokered a deal concerning the Dreamers.
According to reports, Trump struck a deal with Democratic leader of the Senate Chuck Schumer and Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi. The supposed deal was to grant work visas and a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. Democrats agreed to bolster the number of immigration agents, but refused to support building a wall on the Mexican border.
After conservative critics ranging from Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Congressman Steven King and others attacked Trump for striking an amnesty deal with Democrats, Trump denied that any deal had been reached.
Immigration policy has always been one of the most divisive issues in America. Much of the early controversy centered around the Irish and German immigrants, both associated with the Catholic Church. The attack on the Irish and German Catholics led to the formation of the “Know-Nothing Party in the 1850s.
The party derived its name when members were asked about their beliefs, they were told to respond, “I know nothing.” Founded after the collapse of the Whig Party, the Know-Nothing Party swept Massachusetts elections in 1854. In the 1856 presidential election, their candidate was former Whig president Millard Fillmore, who won 21.5 percent of the vote. The party collapsed after the 1856 elections.
Many critics of current anti-immigrants attempt to link their views to the Know-Nothing Party. In a 2006 editorial in The Weekly Standard, editor William Kristol attacked populous Republicans for “turning the GOP into an anti-immigrant, Know-Nothing Party.”
In addition to the attacks on the Irish and Germans, later attacks focused on Southern Europeans, Africans and Asians. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 1880s, which completely stopped the flow of Chinese immigrants.
The Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986 granted amnesty to illegal workers who resided continuously in the United States since Jan. 1, 1982, and paid a fine and back taxes. It was passed by the Democrat controlled House, the Republican Senate and signed into law by Republican Ronald Reagan.
A flood of illegal immigrants since Simpson-Mazzoli has led to more recent efforts to grant permanent status to the most recent wave of illegals. In 2010, Congress considered the DREAM Act which would have granted work permits to the children of illegal immigrants and create a pathway to citizenship. Although it passed the Democratic controlled House, the Senate was not able to get the 60 votes needed to stop a Republican filibuster.
Because of the failure of Congress to pass the Dream Act, President Obama signed an executive order in 2012 to protect the Dreamers. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was praised by the Democrats, but attacked by Republicans who argued the president lacked the authority to unilaterally change immigration policy.
DACA became a focal point of the 2016 presidential campaign when candidate Donald Trump promised to end DACA on “Day One.” He also promised to build a wall on the Mexican border. Instead of “Day One,” it took Trump eight months to rescind DACA.
There are currently four major legislative proposals before Congress to reform immigration. The Dream Act, sponsored by Democrat Dick Simpson of Illinois and Republican Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, would codify DACA, impose educational, work and military requirements and create a path to citizenship after 13 years.
Florida Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo has introduced the Recognizing America’s Children Act. This bill codifies DACA, imposes work and educational requirements, and creates a path to citizenship after 10 years.
The American Hope Act sponsored by Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, has 112 Democratic co-sponsors. There are no work or military requirements and Dreamers may apply for citizenship after five years.
Finally, Republican House member Mike Coffman of Colorado has introduced the Bar Removal of Individuals [who] Dream and Grow our Economy (Bridge Act). Coffman is seeking to obtain 218 signatures and force DACA to the floor for a vote.
Will President Trump’s negotiations with the Democratic leadership force Republicans to act, or will it alienate them from their president by shutting out Republicans from the negotiations?
Will Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan schedule a floor vote on DACA, especially if most Democrats support the bill and most Republicans oppose the bill?
Will Democrats offer concessions to the president and Republicans in exchange for supporting DACA? Will Democrats agree to build a border wall? Will Democrats support E-Verify to enforce immigration law? Will Democrats agree to hire more immigration agents?
At this point, there are a lot more questions than there are answers.
Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.