Conservative groups, in a strange twist of politics, say they’re grateful to Democrats for fighting President Donald Trump’s border wall.
It’s not that they’re against the idea of a wall. But conservative immigration advocates say they want a wall that also comes with stronger border security measures and tougher enforcement away from the borders.
They see the Democrats as the ones saving the country from a policy they say would do little to reduce illegal immigration and likely increase it.
“What I’ve been a little relieved about is the Democrats really digging in on it because I was nervous about what the Republican leadership was trying to pass,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, who is in regular discussions with the administration. “It’s like them being opposed to the wall was almost like a poison pill.”
The specter of a government shutdown over Christmas loomed larger when Trump told House Republican leaders that he wouldn’t sign any bill to keep the government functioning without full funding for the border wall. Just Wednesday, Trump indicated he would approve the Senate bill if passed by the House, but he changed his mind after conservatives cried foul.
“We just had a very long, productive meeting with the president,” Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters after House Republicans met with the president for more than an hour on Thursday. “The president informed us that he will not sign the bill that came up from the Senate last evening because of his legitimate concerns for border security.”
Several conservative groups question the true effectiveness of a wallif it’s not combined with more interior enforcement, worker verification protections and greater restrictions on asylum.
They note how many immigrants turn themselves in at ports of entry and ask for asylum instead of trying to sneak through the desert.
Conservative groups like Center for Immigration Studies, FAIR and NumbersUSA who have long advocated for tightening immigration controls are particularly concerned about several guest worker programs that were inserted into the must-pass spending legislation.
One proposal in the more than 2,232-page, $1.3 trillion federal spending bill pushed by North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis allows the Department of Homeland Security to raise the 66,000 cap on visas for temporary, seasonal foreign workers for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Another proposal would make it easier for employers to bring in people from other countries for temporary agricultural work that farmers say are needed to pick crops.
“The border wall alone isn’t going to end illegal immigration,” said Chris Chmielenski, deputy director of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for reducing immigration. “What you’re doing is trading $5 billion for a border wall, which will have very little if any impact on deterring future illegal immigration but in return you’re increasing guest workers programs. For us, that’s not a great trade off.”
These groups have long been concerned that Trump’s political interests of fulfilling a campaign promise to build the wall might be prioritized over other more important enforcement priorities.
Their dismay is the latest in a series of conservatives coming out against Trump policies. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has led the opposition to Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria and conservative pundit Ann Coulter called his presidency a “joke” this week.
The White House has worked on various plans that include providing citizenship for nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants to enforcement specific efforts that fund the wall, restrict asylum and cut legal immigration.
Those in the White House pushing for a more moderate proposal have told the president that any proposal still needs some Democratic support and warned that failing to find a deal now could mean starting the 2020 campaign season with no border wall and the possible deportations of so-called Dreamers, people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Trump came close to striking a deal earlier that would have traded border funding in exchange for protections for Dreamers. But that deal fell apart.
RJ Hauman, the government relations director at FAIR, which advocates for stronger immigration enforcement, said the most important issue is not necessarily about the 11 million people currently in the country illegally, but making sure another 11 million or more follow because the appropriate enforcement protections are not in place.
And conservatives have long been concerned that Trump would strike a deal to provide legalization in order to claim victory check off his signature campaign promise.
It’s not impossible, he said, that the legalization could be granted immediately and the wall funding gets tied up in courts and Congress fights to get it back.
“I think the only thing saving us from that was that far left fringe of the Democratic Party,” Hauman said. “Schumer would have more willingness to have DACA for wall funding. He did before.”