President Trump’s so-called “bill of love” extending citizenship to 1.8 million Dreamers and other undocumented youths revives a nasty Republican plank from previous failed efforts in Congress to reform the nation’s immigration laws. It postpones their citizenship, and thus their right to vote, for 10 to 12 years.
“Over a period of 10 to 12 years,” Trump said Wednesday. “Somebody does a great job, they work hard—that gives incentive to do a great job. Whatever they’re doing, if they do a great job, I think it’s a nice thing to have the incentive of, after a period of years, being able to become a citizen.”
On Thursday night, the White House unveiled more details of its "framework on immigration reform and border security." The administration is also seeking $25 billion to build a border wall with Mexico, as well as funds to ramp up enforcement and deportations. Only immediate family members would be granted residence visas and citizenship, ending today's options for extended family and visa lotteries.
"Sadly, Trump and anti-immigrant Republicans (note not all are anti-immigrant) have a priority of delaying inclusion of Dreamers as long as possible for mostly political reasons (they aren't likely to vote for Republicans)," Antonio Gonzales, the president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, wrote in an email to AlterNet. "Latino and immigrant advocates should be highly skeptical of the administration's 'citizenship' comments, even as they pursue a negotiation in favor of the Dreamers. Trump has proven himself untrustworthy at every stage."
Federal immigration policy changes are never pretty, as legislation in recent decades has granted citizenship and legal residence on one hand, while punishing those who remain visa-less—such as the 1986 bill that barred non-citizens from getting public assistance. But unlike an average seven-year gap that migrants with legal residence typically wait until becoming citizens, most of the estimated 1.8 million Dreamers have never lived anywhere else and identify as Americans.
Republicans know that. But they are cynically insisting on such a delay because it distorts the electorate by shaping it to their advantage. By delaying citizenship for this multitude, Republicans are perpetuating their hold on power by postponing the U.S. electorate’s multicultural transformation. States like California already do not have a majority of white voters.
The decade-long delay before Dreamers can become citizens isn’t a new idea. The 2013 Senate-passed comprehensive immigration legislation, which died in the House, included a 10- to 13-year delay before citizenship. As a National Immigration Law Center analysis noted then, after House Democrats introduced a companion bill with those citizenship delays, that provision conferred second-class status on many levels.
“We remain concerned—as we were with respect to the Senate committee’s bill, as well as the version of S. 744 bill that passed the full Senate—that the 10- to 13-year road to citizenship it envisions is too long, is extremely narrow, and will be especially difficult for low-income immigrants,” NILC wrote. “For example, immigrants who qualify for registered provisional immigrant (RPI) status—the first step toward citizenship under the Senate bill—would be allowed to live and work in the U.S. but would be denied access to health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act and to other federal benefit programs paid for by their tax dollars.”
Back then, the GOP didn’t want to confront millions of new voters from immigrant communities—voters they assume would skew Democratic. Immigrants are not necessarily Democrats. But immigrant communities, particularly Latinos, have not forgotten how California passed Prop 187 in 1994 (a campaign led by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson), a law that targeted them by denying public benefits.
Trump’s “bill of love” delaying Dreamers' voting rights is only the latest anti-immigrant attack from his administration.
The Justice Department has been pressuring the Census to add a question about the citizenship status of household members to the 2020 survey. Immigrant law groups have harshly criticized that effort as a deliberate attempt to undercount immigrants, which in turn, would mean less federal funds for their communities, which are often politically liberal epicenters. But undercounting immigrants would also mean less representation when redrawing state and federal election districts in 2021.
"We can see this logic too in the Republican cynical push to not count certain immigrants in the 2020 Census," said the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project's Gonzales.
“I think the main motivation is to secure an undercount,” Tom Saenz, the president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, told the Washington Post. “Texas is a very red state. They know that is not going to be the case for very much longer.”
The Post’s Michael Scherer explained why right-wingers want not to just undercount immigrant communities in the Census, but to shift political districts from representing overall populations to representing only registered voters.
“The eligible voting population would not include noncitizens or children under the age of 18, who tend to be disproportionately minority,” Scherer noted. “A switch to using eligible voters would effectively eliminate millions of people from the Texas population for the purposes of redistricting, leading to less urban districts and more rural ones, shifting the balance of power away from heavily Hispanic areas.”
Trump began his presidential campaign with vicious verbal attacks on Mexican migrants. As his presidency moves to its second year, these attacks have taken new forms. One is proactive efforts to deprive immigrant communities of their voting rights by delaying citizenship, starting with their most Americanized cohort, the Dreamers. Another attack is adding citizenship questions to the next nationwide Census. Taken together, this isn’t just a proactive political strike against the GOP's electoral opponents: It shows the lengths to which the party will go to rig the system to preserve their power, even as the country increasingly does not look like its white and aging base.