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Republicans Want to Deport Dreamers

The Republican Party wants to deport Dreamers.

That’s the reason Congress has never passed legislation to protect Dreamers; why a Republican president, Donald Trump, terminated an administrative policy, DACA, that allowed Dreamers to live and work in the U.S. legally; why Congress is failing before our eyes to codify a version of the program Trump killed before Dreamers start getting swept into deportation proceedings in big numbers. And it is why Trump is threatening to veto the latest bipartisan proposal to protect Dreamers.

It is possible that some Republican leaders don’t think deporting Dreamers is a great idea, but that it is nevertheless a better idea than making nativists and white nationalists, including Trump, upset. That’s the generous interpretation. All else equal, Dreamers should stay, but all else is not equal, so the Dreamers must go.

At the same time, Republican leaders don’t want people to know that they think Dreamers should be deported.

“To anyone who doubts my intention to solve this problem and bring up a DACA and immigration reform bill, do not,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said one week ago. “We will bring a solution to the floor—one the president will sign…. We are committed to getting this done.”

The truth is, you should doubt his intention to “solve this problem,” because he is not committed to getting it done. Ryan’s position is that the House of Representatives will only vote on legislation that Trump supports, and Trump only supports legislation that would be so damaging to immigrant communities, and to the future of the country, that Dreamers themselves would rather face deportation than subject the rest of the public to the consequences.

This whole farce would end very quickly if Ryan, and Trump, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell simply copped to the truth—that Dreamers will go unprotected so long as Republicans control government, because Republicans don’t want to protect them—and let voters sort out next steps.

But because that proposition would probably generate a voter backlash, Republicans are trying to create a case of whodunnit around the death of the DREAM Act. Rather than work in good faith to protect Dreamers, or admit in good faith that they don’t believe Dreamers should live out their lives in America, Republicans are hiding the ball and hoping you won’t notice.

Trump is on record supporting a partisan Republican proposal sponsored by seven senators, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), the most restrictionist member of the GOP conference, who only supports legalizing Dreamers as a concession for imposing drastic cuts to legal immigration. A Republican-only plan like this can’t become law. It lacks majority support in the Senate, and possibly in the House, and even if it could pass both chambers, leading Dreamer activists wouldn’t want it to.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators, including eight Republicans, have agreed to a proposal that would grant legal status to the Dreamer population, appropriate billions of dollars for border security projects, and (per Trump’s request) curb family migration. As their proposal took shape, Trump’s administration set out to kill it.

“We’re doing everything in our power [to block the bill],” a senior administration official told the Washington Post.

Why is the Trump administration so fixated on killing this bill in the Senate? Ryan has already committed to shelving any legislation Trump doesn’t support, and no legislation can become law over a veto without supermajority support in both chambers. The chances that a bill Trump doesn’t support will become law are effectively zero.

The risk to Trump and Republican leaders is that if a bipartisan bill to protect Dreamers passes the Senate, the case of whodunnit is solved. When Paul Ryan refuses to put it up for a vote on the House floor, he’ll become the one who done it. If he caves, and lets it pass the House, the culprit will become Trump, in the White House, with his veto pen.

This story is nearly two decades old. The DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001. Republicans, who controlled government at the time, let it languish. In George W. Bush’s second term, immigration restrictionists killed two bipartisan immigration reform efforts. In 2010, Republicans filibustered the DREAM Act. In 2013, hardline conservatives bullied then-House Speaker John Boehner into tabling a bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the Senate. Republican leaders opposed DACA. Republican attorneys general tried to challenge DACA in court, before Trump withdrew it, and set it on a path to phase out.

Now that failure to pass protection for Dreamers will make Dreamers the face of Trump’s vicious deportation regime, Republicans see it as their top priority not to pass compromise legislation, but to kill the compromise legislation while obscuring their responsibility for the deportations to come.

The best place for them to do that is in the Senate, where filibuster rules assure that partisan and bipartisan bills generally face 60-vote thresholds, which makes partisan accountability less transparent. Republicans can filibuster the bipartisan proposal, but Democrats will filibuster the Republican proposal in turn. And when both plans fail, restrictionists will try to turn the question of who’s to blame into a partisan squabble, and bully journalists into treating the death of DACA as a puzzling mystery. Not “Republicans Kill DACA” but “DACA Dies in Senate.”

They will use Senate rules, in other words, to create as much fog as possible around who’s to blame for the Dreamers’ fate. It’s not a mystery though. The only mystery is whether Republicans will be successful in misleading the public about their values, their policies, and who’s responsible for the consequences.