Commentary: Breaking down Trump’s framework on immigration reform

Mateo Lozano, 23, who was brought to the United States at the age of four, watches President Donald Trump as he lays out his immigration policy during a State of the Union watch party Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, in Denver. Lozano is concerned for the future of immigrant families. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert)

Last Thursday, the White House released its Framework on Immigration Reform and Border Security. On Friday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement urging lawmakers to seek immigration solutions that honor principles of love, family unity, accountability and compassion.

While it is good news that the White House is proposing to expand protections to a total population of 1.8 million Dreamers by adjusting the age and date of arrival qualifications, what Trump is asking for in return should not be overlooked.

In exchange for Dreamers, the proposal seeks $25 billion for a southern border wall and northern border enhancements, which the White House calls the “minimum tools necessary to mitigate the rapidly growing surge of illegal immigration.” Never mind the fact that these measures hardly seem to be minimal and illegal immigration appears to actually be in decline. But that is not all.

Also included in the section about border security is a proposal to “deter illegal entry by ending dangerous statutorily-imposed catch-and-release and by closing legal loopholes that have eroded our ability to secure the immigration system and protect public safety.” If by “statutorily-imposed,” Trump is referring to the Bill of Rights, we should all be concerned.

The catch-and-release process the White House is criticizing refers to the common practice of temporarily releasing those who are not considered a threat to public safety during their years-long wait for an immigration hearing. The law imposing this practice upon the Trump administration comes from Supreme Court precedent protecting the fundamental rights of non-citizens, who cannot be detained indefinitely without due process. The “loopholes” the White House is seeking to eliminate? In a recent committee hearing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions blamed credible fear claims and required hearings for those seeking asylum. Are these really protections and “loopholes” we want to change?

Even more concerning is the drastic reduction in legal immigration. Under the guise of “protecting the nuclear family,” Trump’s proposal eliminates five of the seven categories of family-based visas, limiting family-sponsored visas to only the spouses and minor children of citizens and legal permanent residents.

This policy has no possible explanation besides simple anti-immigrant sentiment. By consistently stirring up fear about so-called “chain migration,” the White House has convinced some supporters that our current system is flooding the country with generations of large extended families all based on a single visa. Not only does this kind of fear-mongering play on the ugliest aspects of human nature, it is also inaccurate.

Simply put, under the current law, a U.S. citizen can only apply for immediate family members – spouses, children, parents and siblings — and many of those family members often wait years, even decades, for an available visa. Similarly, legal permanent residents can only sponsor spouses, minor children and unmarried adult children, all of whom have to wait for an available visa. This is simply not the problem the White House has exaggerated it to be. More troubling still is the fact that it seems to pit Dreamers against proponents of “legal immigration” in an unnecessary zero-sum game, further complicating negotiations for a bipartisan immigration deal.

Finally, the White House is proposing to eliminate the diversity visa lottery altogether, claiming that it “selects individuals at random to come to the United States without consideration of skills, merit, or public safety.” Again, this is oversimplified at best if not outright misleading. All immigrants, including those entering on diversity visas, are subject to rigorous background checks and have met a variety of qualifications before they are allowed to immigrate.

The historical purpose behind the diversity visa lottery has been to open a path (albeit a very, very limited one) for immigrants who are extraordinarily unlikely to have any other employment-based or family-based visas available to them because of the geographic and geopolitical situation of their countries of origin. This is one small program that has, in the past, codified our historical belief that diversity is one of our strengths in the United States of America. That the White House would insist this program “does not serve the national interest” is extremely telling about Trump’s vision for America — one wholly inconsistent with the vision of our country’s founders and the immigrant ancestors of almost all U.S. citizens.

Diana Bate Hardy

Diana Bate Hardy is an Immigration Committee lead for Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG), a nonpartisan grassroots organization of over 5,000 women dedicated to the ideals of decency, honor, accountability, transparency and justice in governing.