Comprehensive immigration reform is needed to uphold the values that “make America, America” but has at best a slim chance getting past Congressional Republicans still enmeshed in the anti-immigrant xenophobia stoked by President Donald Trump, said William Kristol, a political analyst and columnist who served as chief of staff for former Vice President Dan Quayle.
But Kristol did not rule out all hope of progress during a recent Facebook Live conversation with Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum.
“I’m not optimistic about getting bipartisan support in Congress, but I come back to the fact plenty of Republicans and conservatives have supported these things in the past,” said Kristol, director of Defending Democracy Together, an organization of current and former Republicans who support voter rights and pro-immigrant polices.
So far in 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved two immigration reform bills, the Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Action on them is awaited in the Senate but few believe it will act.
“I don’t think it’s that partisan of an issue out in the country. But when you have a major news network and a good chunk of one of the major parties on social media demagoguing the issue, it becomes more partisan,” said Kristol, founder of The Weekly Standard and editor-at-large of The Bulwark.
But just as he did in a recent Washington Post op-ed piece, Kristol argued for the possibility of achieving limited reforms through amendments to the Senate’s upcoming budget reconciliation process. The approach would amend the legislation to include paths to citizenship for certain immigrant groups such as essential workers, farmworkers, Temporary Protective Status holders and the Dreamers — young adult immigrants raised in the U.S. after being brought into the country illegally as children.
Democrats would have to demonstrate how such amendments would benefit the nation’s economic health, which it would certainly accomplish by protecting the status and availability of key elements of the workforce, Kristol said.
“We need to point out that this is not including all immigration reform in reconciliation. It’s not the wish list of liberals. We are asking for particular things for which there has been bipartisan support,” he said. “We’re not letting anyone in through reconciliation. We are legalizing and regularizing the status of people who are already here.”
Noorani explained that the U.S. economy would experience a significant boost if these immigrant populations were granted secure residency and paths to citizenship.
“Through legalization, you see an increased earning potential over the course of their lifetimes, particularly if they do go on to become citizens,” Noorani said. “As a result, you see an increase in tax contributions on the local and the state and the federal levels. And there are the job creation elements of this as well — estimates of $30 billion to $40 billion annually for the nation. With comprehensive (immigration reform), over a 10-year time frame, we’re talking about $1.5 trillion for the economy.”
Noorani estimated votes on a range of budget resolution amendments, including those related to immigration, are expected to occur in mid-August. A decision by the Senate parliamentarian on the appropriateness of amendments will be made by the middle of October.
“We’re up for a good six to eight weeks of nitty-gritty legislative detail and a lot of deeply partisan politicking around these issues for the bill, writ large, but also for immigration in particular,” he said.
Kristol said it’s difficult to determine the odds of achieving even limited reforms through the budget reconciliation process.
“This depends on White House and Democratic leadership deciding this is something important to push for.”
“This depends on White House and Democratic leadership deciding this is something important to push for,” he said, but added “the chance of getting a genuine bipartisan deal with these Republican senators — with this Republican Party going into the 2022 election year — doesn’t look good.”
Nor did it look good for reform when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently blasted immigration, Kristol said. “The core of his attack on (President Joe) Biden was on the border and really a kind of demagogic kind of attack on amnesty and bringing COVID over — mostly ridiculous Fox News kind of talking points. So, when you see that, you think they’re not really looking to make a deal.”
But some have expressed optimism the current bipartisan support for the president’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, with possible support from McConnell, could inspire cooperation on other issues, he said. “People said if infrastructure can happen, why not immigration?”
It’s also promising that Congress overwhelmingly approved funds for the resettlement in the U.S. of Afghan personnel who helped American troops during the war. “There is the other side, the heartening side, the vote on the Afghans.”
Republicans do have a history of supporting fair immigration policies, and that may yet emerge in the process, although probably not this year, Kristol said.
Republicans do have a past history of supporting fair immigration policies.
He recalled that President Ronald Reagan launched his first presidential campaign from the Statue of Liberty and signed a 1986 act that legalized undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the U.S. before 1982.
Republicans historically understood “it’s such a huge advantage for us to have these people from all over the world coming here and contributing,” he said.
But bipartisanship on immigration began to wane in the 2000s and clearly was targeted by the 45th president of the United States.
“Trump and his supporters attempted to really demonize immigrants. It was certainly a key part of his campaign,” Kristol said. “I don’t think it worked, but we shouldn’t let our guard down and we should fight back against these kinds of efforts. We do not want a society where we fear each other and demonize each other and routinely attack each other because of where we’re from.”