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Immigration legislation in the new Congress is likely to coalesce around discrete issues such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and border security, lawmakers and advocates said.
“There is a benefit to divided government, if divided government decides to work,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said at a Nov. 15 National Immigration Forum event. “There are enough people on both sides of the aisle that really see this as an issue that needs to be resolved,” he said.
Don’t look for another run at a comprehensive immigration bill like the one that passed the Senate in 2013, Lankford said in response to a question from Bloomberg Law. “I don’t think the president’s going to sign off on something that complicated and that expansive,” he said.
But legislation to legalize immigrants covered by DACA and temporary protected status, as well as addressing border security, are likely to be on the table, Lankford said.
As for President Donald Trump, “I really do think” he sees immigration as an “opportunity to be able to solve the issue that’s unresolved,” he said.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), on the other hand, believes the president wants to keep the immigration issue in limbo.
“That is not an issue of Republicans and Democrats,” Bennet said. “Trump has a sui generis view of immigration, and it’s an inconsistent view from what both parties have said for decades,” he said.
That may change in the wake of the midterm elections.
“Over the next couple of years, as the president starts to run for re-election, he’s going to have to start to look at the map,” said the National Immigration Forum’s executive director, Ali Noorani.
“The map coming out of last week is pretty clear that an anti-immigrant message is pushing voters away from the Republican Party,” he said.
If the Democrats are able to put forward a presidential candidate that appeals to suburban and rural voters on a variety of issues, “the president is going to have a really tough re-election on his hands,” Noorani said.
“The Republican Party, as currently led, is on a track that is going to take them further and further away from suburban and rural voters.”
Both DACA and TPS currently are being kept alive by court orders.
DACA provides deportation protection and work permits to young, undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. TPS provides the same benefits to the nationals of countries affected by national disasters, armed conflicts, and similar conditions.
The court-ordered continuation of the DACA program “took the pressure off of the Senate,” which had been working on DACA legislation in February, Lankford said. Lawmakers were attempting to pass legislation before the program was set to end in March.
“Senators run after the shiny object,” and “immigration’s not the shiny object right now,” he said.
But work can still be done behind the scenes even if the urgency isn’t there, Lankford said. It’s lawmakers’ responsibility to lay the groundwork so that there’s something to work from once Congress turns its attention back to the immigration issue, he said.
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