Trump’s Border Wall, Deportation Plans Face Pushback From GOP
Donald Trump’s pledges to deport undocumented immigrants and build a U.S.-Mexico border wall helped fuel Republicans’ surprising election victories, but they now face growing challenges from fellow party members.
Three Republican senators are working with Democrats to shield about 750,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation if Trump cancels a 2012 order from President Barack Obama that let them stay in the U.S.
Lawmakers want to “ensure that children who were brought here by their parents, through no fault of their own, are able to stay and finish their education and continue to contribute to society,” said Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are joining him on a measure drafted by the No. 2 Democratic leader, Dick Durbin of Illinois, that will be introduced after the new Congress convenes Jan. 3.
Trump’s campaign was largely powered by his get-tough stance on immigration. A Pew Research Center poll in August found that 79 percent of Trump voters want a border wall, compared with 38 percent of all registered voters.
But among lawmakers in Congress, the desire to build a wall along the entire 1,933-mile border with Mexico has evaporated. Republicans in both chambers instead support more fencing, border patrol agents, drones and other resources to curb illegal entry. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul said he’ll offer a bill with some of those steps in January.
“Starting next month, the people are going to get what they asked for,” the Texas Republican said Dec. 9 at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, contending that the "border security surge" plan is as good as a wall.
That may not be good enough for Trump, who pushed back after House Speaker Paul Ryan said Dec. 4 on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that "conditions on the ground determine what you need" in different areas of the border.
"We’re going to work on the wall, Paul," Trump told a cheering audience when the two appeared together Dec. 13 in Wisconsin on the president-elect’s thank-you tour. "We’re going to build the wall, OK? Believe me."
In a Time magazine interview in early December, Trump didn’t back off a promise to cancel Obama’s executive orders on immigration. But he also said he’ll seek a solution on young undocumented immigrants -- known as “Dreamers” after failed legislation to protect them -- that will “make people happy and proud.”
McCain in Mexico
Among the pivotal Republican senators who disagree with Trump is John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. McCain highlighted his split with Trump’s approaches during a Dec. 20-21 trip to Mexico, where he discussed the U.S. relationship with its southern neighbor with Mexico’s Interior Minister and other government officials.
While there, McCain said he holds the view of most Senate Democrats that any border security changes should be part of a broader immigration measure to address the status of some or all of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. He helped author a immigration bill along those lines in 2013 that the Senate passed but the House didn’t take up.
He also emphasized the need for a secure border, but didn’t directly affirm Trump’s call for an actual wall.
"I believe that we need to have significant improvements in border enforcement, but I believe the way that you do that is technology primarily," McCain said.
Mexican officials provided some of their own pressure after Trump’s repeated calls for that country to pay for fortification at the border.
Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu met with Ryan in Washington on Dec. 14 to discuss the U.S.-Mexico relationship. She also met with Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, to discuss Mexico’s support for the bipartisan bill protecting younger undocumented immigrants.
Most Republicans in Congress, particularly those in the House, favor securing the border before changing the immigration law. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California has said McCaul’s border-security ideas are a “good place to start.”
McCaul in 2015 advanced a measure through his committee that would have required the Department of Homeland Security to achieve operational control of the Southwest border in five years, based on a sector-by-sector analysis. The agency’s political appointees would be denied pay raises and bonuses if the bill’s goals weren’t met.
He has indicated his new proposal will be more extensive, coming under a Republican president who sees the border as a bigger priority.
“We must start with an immediate border security ‘surge,’” McCaul said at the Heritage Foundation. “We have started to work on emergency plans in Congress to build the tough array of barriers we need along the border, close all gaps and defend American sovereignty."
In the Senate, Homeland Security and Government Reform Chairman Ron Johnson says he isn’t in a hurry. He says he wants to wait until the confirmation of retired Marine General John Kelly, Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security, and to work with him on a proposal.
In the meantime, Johnson recently returned from a trip to Israel to discuss border security with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and examine nearly 160 miles of steel fencing that separates Israel from the Sinai. Johnson estimates it might cost the U.S. about $4 billion to build something similar along portions of the border with Mexico, and wants to consider whether Israel’s approach offers a model.
“I’m interested in passing a bill that will actually work,” said Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican. “It may take a little more time and a little more thought.”
Regardless of the pace of the broader debate, Congress could add funds for border security to the next spending bill to keep the U.S. government open after current funding expires April 28.
Money From Mexico
While Trump promised to make Mexico pay for the changes, few lawmakers see that as a realistic goal -- at least not initially.
Representative Mark Meadows, the new chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said that while most members of his group will want to offset the cost with reductions in other spending, a border plan without spending offsets won’t lose many of their votes.
Freedom Caucus members see border security as a “major problem, and the American people want it built," Meadows of North Carolina said in an interview. "We can probably move the funds from something that is not paid-for to the wall."
The last significant action on immigration was in 2013, when the Senate voted 68-32 for its plan that included a path to legal residency and $46 billion to secure the U.S-Mexico border. The bill would have doubled the Border Patrol’s size by adding 20,000 agents, required 700 miles of border fencing, and added unmanned drones to help police the border. The House didn’t consider the bill.