In his first official State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Donald Trump unveiled plans for an immigration reform package that could potentially appease both parties and end the standoff in Congress that led to a government shutdown earlier this month — one that would both provide Dreamers with the opportunity to become citizens as well as tighten border security and end the visa lottery and practice of granting sponsorships to extended family members of Dreamers.
Standing before a joint session of Congress, Trump said that this new bill is "one where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs." And while Republicans applauded Trump's efforts, Democrats did not appear to support his proposal.
"I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties — Democrats and Republicans — to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed," Trump said. "My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too."
Trump's four-pillar immigration plan includes a path for 1.8 million people living in the country illegally who meet education and work requirements to become citizens, as well as intentions to build a wall along the southern border to close "the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country — and it finally ends the dangerous practice of 'catch and release.'"
Trump also said he plans to stop granting green cards to immigrants through a lottery system and that "it is time to begin moving towards a merit-based immigration system — one that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society, and who will love and respect our country." The final pillar includes plans to end the practice of allowing immigrants to bring over their relatives, which Trump referred to as "chain migration" and was not well received by Democratic members of Congress.
"Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country...These four pillars represent a down-the-middle compromise, and one that will create a safe, modern, and lawful immigration system," Trump said. "For over 30 years, Washington has tried and failed to solve this problem. This Congress can be the one that finally makes it happen."
Until now, immigration policy has hardly been a bipartisan issue. In fact, it was Congress's inability to agree on an immigration reform bill that caused a three-day government shutdown just a few weeks ago. The shutdown was only put to an end after Congress voted to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government through February 8 contingent on an agreement by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring a debate over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and immigration to the Senate floor.
Trump announced plans to phase out the DACA program in September, giving Congress a March deadline to come to a consensus on the future of Dreamers. And while Democrats have repeatedly asked Congress to vote on the Obama-era regulation before this deadline and offered a bill that would allow those immigrants to become citizens over time, Republicans have argued that any new legislation would need to be accompanied by safeguards such as border control.
As of 2014, more than 241,000 DACA-eligible students enrolled in college, according to the Migration Policy Institute, and many local governments and lawmakers have taken measures to support Dreamers and their aspirations for higher education. Washington State, for example, voted just this week to extend certain aid scholarships to undocumented students, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is currently pushing to grant free tuition to Dreamers at State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) schools.
NASFAA President Justin Draeger has expressed NASFAA's support of Dreamers stating that "the DACA program protects from deportation young men and women who were brought to the U.S. — without choice — as children before the age of 16. ... They learn in our schools, defend our freedoms and country, and become productive members of society — all in the face of significant hurdles. Ending this program and penalizing individuals who were brought here through no choice of their own is unspeakably cruel and out-of-step with the foundational ideas and principles of this country."
Although Trump did not discuss the state of higher education in his speech, he did stress the need for vocational schools, to which both parties applauded. Education Secretary Betsy Devos will meet with Trump Wednesday to discuss access to education.
Following the State of Union address, Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA), in the Democratic party's official response, criticized the Trump administration and called for unity among lawmakers to tackle important issues moving forward. "We choose a better deal for all who call our country home," Kennedy said. "We choose a living wage and a paid leave, and affordable childcare that your family needs to survive, which is pensions that are solvent, trade pacts that are fair, roads and bridges that will not rust away. A good education that you can afford."
Publication Date: 1/31/2018