The election results are in and Democrats gained control of the House during the midterms. It will place a check and balance on President Trump’s power and could tie up his agenda for the next couple of years.
Until Tuesday night, the federal courts have served as the only check against President Donald Trump’s widespread efforts to crack down on illegal immigration and restrict legal immigration.
But with the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives following Tuesday night’s midterm elections, the president’s most controversial measures over the past two years will be investigated, his current crackdown efforts will be more closely scrutinized, and Democrats will use their newfound control of the nation’s purse strings to reign in his future immigration plans.
The only constants are that congressional gridlock will endure and a broad, nuanced comprehensive immigration reform will likely remain elusive, say immigration experts on all sides of the debate.
“Nothing was passing the Republican House on immigration, and it’s even less likely now that anything is going to pass Congress,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for lower levels of legal immigration and stricter enforcement against illegal immigration.
During her acceptance speech in Washington on Tuesday night, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi focused on her legislative priorities, but made clear that the victory was about “restoring the constitutional checks and balances to the Trump administration.”
That means Democrats, who will now head all House committees, will use their powers to investigate and subpoena witnesses to pore through the administration’s most controversial immigration actions over the past two years.
The list of topics could include the president’s “zero-tolerance” policy that led to more than 2,500 family separations over the summer, his efforts to curb refugee and asylum admissions to the U.S., the treatment of immigrants in detention centers, the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, and his deployment of more than 7,000 active-duty military troops to the southwest border in reaction to a current caravan of Central American migrants making their way through Mexico.
Many of those investigations are expected to be led by the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., is expected to assume the chairmanship when the new Congress convenes in January. The 71-year-old is a Brooklyn native who represents a district that includes a large chunk of Manhattan, making him a surefire target of Trump in the years to come.
Nadler has largely embraced positions that help immigrant families, as evidenced by his “F-” grade from NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for lower levels of legal and illegal immigration. After easily securing his win Tuesday night, Nadler issued a statement declaring that the new-look Congress will immediately re-assert its oversight role.
“Americans are tired of watching a Republican Congress fail in its constitutional duty to hold the Administration accountable for policies that rip children from the arms of their parents,” he said.
The prospect of both chambers agreeing on any immigration bills, however, will run straight through Nadler’s counterpart on the Senate Judiciary Committee, expected to be Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., after Republicans maintained control of the Senate.
Graham has a come a long way since he openly embraced “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants as a member of the Gang of 8, a bipartisan group of senators that passed a comprehensive immigration bill through the Senate in 2013 — an effort that died when the Republican-led House refused to even consider the bill, said Krikorian.
Graham has since adopted a more “conservative,” Trump-friendly posture on immigration issues, Krikorian said, meaning he won’t allow his committee to approve bills that are too immigration-friendly.
“Immigration in the Senate is going to be the Lindsey Graham show,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a group that advocates for immigrants.
Two such battles that Congress will have to fight soon will provide an indication of how that relationship between the two chambers will play out.
DACA has allowed more than 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children to legally live and work in the U.S. The TPS program has done the same for more than 300,000 foreigners whose nations suffered civil strife and natural disasters.
Federal courts have ordered the administration to maintain both programs, but the Supreme Court, now featuring two Trump appointees, could uphold the president’s moves. That would put the onus on Congress to find a solution for those groups.
Noorani said the most likely scenario is that the House passes bills to protect DACA and TPS, but then runs into a wall in Graham’s Judiciary Committee. There, Noorani expects Graham to cram in as many of Trump’s immigration enforcement measures as he can, jeopardizing passage of any DACA or TPS fix.
Finding any common ground on a broader immigration bill like the one passed by the Senate in 2013 will be even harder, according to Brad Jones, a political science professor at the University of California, Davis, who studies immigration policy.
“Will we see reform? No, not in the sense of a bill with a guest worker program and a path to citizenship,” for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, Jones said.
The most realistic possibility is that the Pelosi-led House will mostly serve as a block against Trump’s continued efforts to limit immigration. For example, the current troop deployment to the southern border requires funding, something Democrats can control through the budgeting process. The border wall the president vowed to build since his presidential campaign needs funding. And Democrats can try to limit his more recent plans to end birthright citizenship or suspend asylum applications for members of the migrant caravan that dominated Trump’s midterm strategy.
“One implication of this election is that funding for something like a border wall is probably going to be off the table,” Jones said. “Some of the most draconian legislation that Republicans fantasize about are now off the table.”
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