The 4 Worst Parts of the Securing America’s Future Act

Storm clouds pass over the dome of the U.S. Capitol building, January 2018.

In the midst of a nationwide uproar regarding the Trump administration’s policy of separating children at the border from their parents, the nativist threat posed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA) Securing America’s Future Act has largely flown under the radar. The bill, “a laundry list of enforcement provisions that Stephen Miller puts under his pillow each night,” dangles the promise of temporary protection for a small number of Dreamers—people without status who came to the country at a young age—in order to realize the Trump administration’s full anti-immigrant vision. In just a few weeks, the entire House of Representatives may have an opportunity to accept or reject this un-American piece of legislation.

The Goodlatte bill may come to the House floor in one of at least two ways: First, in mid-May, members of the House Freedom Caucus helped to tank the traditionally bipartisan Farm Bill in an effort to force Republican leadership to allow a vote on the Goodlatte bill. As a result, they secured a promise that the bill will be brought to the House floor during the week of June 18. Second, if the bill does not come to the floor the week of June 18, it is also one of four measures related to Dreamers that would come up for a vote on June 25 as part of a “Queen of the Hill” resolution if the resolution’s supporters manage by June 8 to secure 218 signatures on a discharge petition to force debate.

As Congress prepares to vote on the Securing America’s Future Act, it’s crucial to understand the four worst parts of the bill:

1. Slashing immigration and keeping families apart

The Securing America’s Future Act would cut entire categories of visas that have long been provided each year to help families reunite with their loved ones, devastating the nation’s immigration system. These visas allow U.S. citizens to sponsor their parents, adult children, and siblings for green cards and permit lawful permanent residents to sponsor their unmarried adult children for the same. Under the bill, even approved petitions filed for people who have been waiting in line patiently for years would suddenly be deemed void. The Goodlatte bill also would end the diversity visa program, which currently provides just 50,000 visas each year for nationals of countries that otherwise contribute few immigrants to the United States. This program has been an important source of visas for African immigrants in recent years. Altogether, these changes—as David Bier and Stuart Anderson have calculated—would reduce future legal immigration by nearly 40 percent.

The drastic cuts to future immigration in Rep. Goodlatte’s bill are similar to the Secure and Succeed Act—proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and championed by President Donald Trump—that, earlier this year, failed to receive even 40 votes in the Senate. A Center for American Progress analysis found that the Grassley-Trump proposal would make our legal immigration system smaller and whiter—increasing the share of Norwegians able to enter the United States, for example, while decreasing the share from places deemed “shithole countries” by the president—and would disproportionately hurt working-age immigrant women.

2. Criminalizing all undocumented immigrants

Under long-standing immigration law, being in the country without status is a civil—not criminal—violation. The Goodlatte bill would change the law and make unlawful presence a crime, turning the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country today into criminals overnight.

When the House of Representatives last passed a bill that would have turned undocumented immigrants into criminals—the infamous “Sensenbrenner bill” of 2005—millions of people took to the streets in protest. In 2013, Rep. Goodlatte advanced a similar measure to criminalize the undocumented population through the House Judiciary Committee. However, rather than own this aspect of the bill, Goodlatte stated, at the time, that the measure was meant to be enacted only in conjunction with legislation that would provide a path to legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants. Republican leadership chose not to bring the bill to the floor. With no broad legalization bill in sight at this time—and Rep. Goodlatte’s time in Congress coming to an end—there is no question that criminalizing all undocumented immigrants is a defining feature of both Goodlatte’s bill and his six-year tenure as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

3. No protection for most Dreamers; indefinite limbo or even criminalization for DACA recipients

As a sop to accomplish the criminalization of the undocumented and the slashing of future immigration, the bill offers a meager, temporary protection to Dreamers. In the last section of a 414-page bill, the Securing America’s Future Act provides only a potentially renewable three-year reprieve from deportation to current DACA recipients.

Unlike the litany of other bills from Democrats and Republicans that would provide permanent legal status to a broader class of Dreamers—such as the Dream Act, the USA Act, the Recognizing America’s Children Act, the American Hope Act, or the SUCCEED Act—Rep. Goodlatte’s bill offers only a tenuous second-class status to a small subset of people. Left out of the measure, for example, are people such as the 120,000 young Dreamers who never had the opportunity to apply for protection because of the Trump administration’s decision to end the initiative. For these individuals—and for hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers—the Goodlatte bill offers the same peril it offers to all other undocumented immigrants: the threat of criminal prosecution, imprisonment, and deportation.

And for those DACA recipients who do qualify to receive the paltry nonimmigrant status the bill offers, the protection is far from secure. According to the terms of the legislation, if their income falls below 125 percent of the federal poverty level, they may be stripped of their nonimmigrant status. And by losing their status and becoming unlawfully present in the United States, they would quickly become subject to criminal prosecution and deportation. In short, the bill criminalizes poverty and misfortune for the very Dreamers that the bill’s proponents may claim will be protected.

4. Eliminating protections for people seeking asylum, including vulnerable children

As part of the administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy designed to discourage people from coming to the United States in search of protection, children are now being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. While parents are transferred to the custody of the U.S. Department of Justice for criminal prosecution before being transferred to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for possible deportation—sometimes without first being reunited with their children—children are held in government custody, often hundreds of miles away and with little to no contact with their parents.

President Trump falsely claims that the separation of families is the result of a “horrible law” rather than a deliberate policy choice. But rather than proposing legislation to change the “horrible law” to prohibit family separation, the administration and its supporters—including Rep. Goodlatte—are proposing legislative changes that would simply make it easier to deport asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, without providing basic due process protections. The Goodlatte bill would do this by essentially forcing asylum seekers to establish their claim within days of entering the country in order to avoid deportation and eliminating a key provision of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which ensures that unaccompanied children arriving from noncontiguous countries—those other than Mexico and Canada—receive a meaningful opportunity to request protection. Instead of recognizing the unique vulnerability of people fleeing violence and persecution, the bill would make it far more likely that asylum seekers and unaccompanied children will be quickly deported back to their countries of origin, potentially being returned to harm or even death.

Conclusion

The Goodlatte bill takes Dreamers hostage as a means to realize a vision of America that is less welcoming and less diverse. Congress should instead look toward bipartisan bills such as the Dream Act and the USA Act that tackle the matter at hand: Protecting Dreamers and putting them on a pathway to citizenship.

Tom Jawetz is vice president for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress. Philip E. Wolgin is managing director for Immigration Policy at the Center.