President Trump has threatened to shut down the government if he doesn’t get an acceptable budget bill, mainly one that honors his campaign pledge to complete “the wall” on the Mexican border. Whether or not this is good politics one could argue that the voters typically blame Republicans for any government shutdown, but on the other hand there is no issue that activates his base like immigration policy.
William Galston writes that it is easy to conclude that Americans are hopelessly divided on the immigration reform issue and we must wait until the public comes together on it, but that this is wrong, and he cites polling that he says reflects consensus that Americans already know what they want from immigration reform and the problem is that their elected representatives won’t give it to them. And it is true that the recent Harvard-Harris poll found that 73% of Americans favor “comprehensive immigration reform”. But he doesn’t mention that the same poll also found that 63% of Americans want any benefits given to illegal immigrants, including those brought here as children, be conditioned on adopting a merit based, legal immigration policy, eliminating the visa lottery, and building a border security barrier. Also, 61% believe that people who arrive here illegally with their children should be sent back.
To me, it is still all about sovereignty and citizenship, and the reasoning expressed by the Supreme Court in Eiku v. United States in 1892 still rings true: “It is an accepted maxim of international law that every sovereign nation has the power, as inherent in sovereignty, and essential to self-preservation, to forbid the entrance of foreigners within its dominions, or to admit them only in such cases and upon such conditions as it may see fit to prescribe.” And I might add, this conclusion was ratified by the recent ruling that upheld President Trump’s travel ban on certain designated countries.
As for the prospects for comprehensive reform, it works pretty much as every other hot button social issue, mainly that the 20% of committed activists on either end of the political and ideological spectrum–the respective core bases of the activists–can block it, and no politician in a competitive district or state wants to go home and face either crowd on a very difficult vote, a situation certainly not conducive to a solution before the people have spoken once again at the ballot box. Meanwhile, Trump seems still to own this space, but we’ll see.