Amy Walter: It's Politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway. Good to be with you. Immigration was an issue we heard a lot about in the 2016 election from candidate Donald Trump.
Donald Trump: When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists. They are not our friend, believe me. No path to legalization unless they leave the country and come back. You can call it deported if you want, the press doesn't like that term. You can call it whatever the hell you want. They're gone. We are going to build a great border wall.
Amy: When he was elected, one of President Trump's first actions was a travel ban on Muslim countries.
Trump: We're going to take our cases as far as it needs to go including all the way up to the Supreme Court. Let me tell you something, I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way which is what I want to do in the first place.
Amy: During the 2018 midterms, the narrative changed, but the sentiment did not.
Trump: This is an invasion. When you see these caravans starting out with 20,000 people, that's an invasion. I was badly criticized for using the word invasion. It's an invasion.
Amy: Perhaps the most consequential Trump's zero-tolerance, immigration policy was widely discussed by many.
Protesters: Stop taking children. The families go to prison.
Male Speaker: In this huge warehouse are very large cages in which children have been separated from the parents.
Male Speaker: Bringing children with you doesn't guarantee you won't get prosecuted.
Female Speaker: Nobody likes his policy. We saw the President on camera that he wants this to end, but everybody has-- Congress has to act.
Chuck Todd: He can end it in his own.
Male Speaker: We all should be able to agree that in the United States of America, we will not intentionally separate children from their parents. We will not do that. We are better than that.
Amy: Even early on in the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, it was a major factor.
Beto O'Rouke: Democrats have to get off the back foot. We have to lead on this issue because we know it is right.
Elizabeth Warren: Down at the border we've got to rework this entirely.
Pete Buttigieg: It should also piss us all off.
Male Speaker: Get rid of Trump's zero-tolerance policy, the remain in Mexico policy, and the metering policy.
Male Speaker: Now, did you make a mistake with those applications?
Joe Biden: The President did the best thing that was able to be done at the time.
Male Speaker: How about you?
Joe: I'm the Vice President of United States.
Amy: The issue of immigration was rarely mentioned in the 2020 general election campaign in the fall. I wondered if the lack of policy debate about immigration was deliberate or if the issue was sidelined, like most things by the pandemic and its economic fallout. I wanted to understand what that may mean for the future of immigration policies put in place by the Trump administration. I called-
Dara Lind: Dara Lind and I'm a reporter with ProPublica covering immigration.
Amy: -to find out what she thinks.
Dara: Really this was a very strange campaign because the pandemic and the economic crisis that it engendered, took up so much space that you just didn't see a more conventional policy debate on what are the candidate's stances on various issues. I don't know that immigration was uniquely sidelined.
I think it just is the most obvious example of how the 2020 election prevented any normal campaign policy rollouts because Trump had been able to set it as a big culture war issue in 2016 and 2018.
Amy: As President-Elect Biden is rolling out his what he calls his top priorities. His top four priorities are Coronavirus, economic recovery, racial equality, and climate change. There were a number of Democrats and progressive groups who were not happy that immigration wasn't listed in there. What do you think that is about and what do you see as the Biden path forward on this issue?
Dara: When we talk about what a President's priorities are, I think that there are particular parts of the job where that matters more than others. First of all, there is a question about what would the legislative priorities be that the Biden administration would be pushing on Congress, which obviously will matter a lot more if Democrats take the Senate.
In that regard, there is a lot of very limited oxygen. I'm thinking back to the first two years of the Obama administration when there was a lot of democratic infighting about what the legislative priority would be after healthcare and immigration very much lost out in that fight.
If you believe that the current immigration policy setup is broadly broken and needs a big legislative fix, including, legalizing the 11 million or so unauthorized immigrants in the country, then yes, not being listed as a priority is a big problem in that regard.
Because the executive branch is large and diverse, and there are a lot of different people working on different issues, it doesn't necessarily slow the ability of immigration regulations and that kind of thing, executive actions to not be a priority.
It's a question of political capital. That I think, is where there's still a little bit of progressive worry that the Biden administration is going to be less aggressive than some progressives want, not because they're focusing on other things, but because they don't necessarily want to bring attention to immigration as an issue.
Amy: That's an interesting point, because the person that Biden has tapped to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas comes from the Obama era. There was a lot of criticism of the Obama administration's hesitancy on moving in a more progressive way.
Does his DHS pick suggest that indeed, this will look more like an Obama era policy on immigration than one that we heard about a lot during the 2020 Democratic primaries, which was much more progressive?
Dara: Mayorkas is I wouldn't say a unity pick necessarily, but I was honestly surprised at how warm the reception to him was, among groups that were criticizing the Obama administration. It does seem that he personally had a reputation for being on the more progressive side of that administration.
To be fully honest, I think it doesn't hurt that that's a job that not a whole lot of people want. It's not a job that pays a lot of political dividends. Having someone who's very experienced in the department who wants the job, that's a plus.
The big success of the Obama administration at DHS was its 2014 executive actions, which a couple of those got blocked in court but they did successfully rein in ICE's ability to just arrest and deport unauthorized immigrants without paying any attention to the equities involved and getting them to exercise significant prosecutorial discretion.
That happened in large part because then DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson did a lot of internal stakeholder work and built up a lot of legitimacy. Having someone who already has those relationships is probably the way you're going to get change done.
I do think that as we see some of the lower-level staff names, that it's just very hard to name a bunch of people who weren't in the Obama administration, and weren't in the Trump administration. Not necessarily people who were political in the Trump administration, but senior civil servants who stayed in government and ended up having some decision-making power. I do think that there are probably going to be fights.
We still had a little bit when Cecilia Munoz who was Obama's point person on immigration got named in the transition team. There will be upcoming battles on who should get to make immigration policy decisions under Biden, and the tension between having people who know the system and having people who haven't been associated with policies that as you said, the party has tried to turn its back on.
Amy: Let's think about the realities of being the President, which is one, you have the proactive agenda, some of the things that a President Biden can do on immigration are things like DACA, et cetera, through executive authority or push legislatively.
Then there's the things that happen that you have no control over like for example, crisis in Central America that continues to push people to seek refuge in the United States. Can we talk through the tension between both of those things?
How much of the Biden administration do you think is going to be just dealing in a reactionary mode to another border surge, given how much struggle is still happening in Central America and in Mexico?
Dara: That really is the million-dollar question. Again, it's not necessarily a matter of, "Oh, if they have to be responding to events, they won't have the policy bandwidth to do other things."
There's nothing in the levers of government that says, "Oh, if more than X people are coming to the US Mexico border in any given month, you have to take staffing away from fully reinstating the DACA program, which is a totally different population."
Again, it is a question of political capital, and we saw in 2014 that the Obama administration's efforts to take broad executive action on immigration were delayed by several months when they had to deal with a surge of unaccompanied children coming to the US Mexico border, partly because it was something that they just needed to direct a lot of resources to very quickly, but partly because they didn't like the optics of being seen as dovish, on immigration when the border was, "overwhelmed."
There is nothing in Central America has made it any better for people to stay there than it was a year ago. We saw really, really low numbers of northward migration in the spring and summer. For a bit, it looked like that was the new normal because countries were really shutting down their mobility policies due to the Coronavirus because people were worried about catching it if they moved through a bunch of different areas.
What it seems like in retrospect is that that was more of a temporary pause and that smugglers were deliberately pausing their operations and then restarted them in the fall. Between that the economic collapse that has made a lot of people just totally out of work, and hurricanes that have struck Central America in recent weeks, there are so many reasons to leave.
Even if Donald Trump was going to be still in office next year, it would seem that there would be a relative rise from these mind bogglingly low levels of migration this year. What we saw under the Trump administration is the relative rises the point.
The Trump administration was the victim of its own success. The border in some ways, they had really, really low levels of apprehensions in the first few months of the Trump term as migrants appear to have taken a wait and see approach before deciding whether to leave because they couldn't sustain those low levels, they often acted as if they were in crisis footing even when historically, apprehensions weren't that high.
If that approach remains, then yes, the Biden administration is going to be on a politically defensive footing very early on. It may or may not be the case that the number of people coming gets to the point where it actually does exceed capacity, and I think that also will depend on what border policies are because the current policy at the border is that everybody just gets expelled back to Mexico or deported back to their home countries in a matter of really just hours because of an order put up by the CDC early in the coronavirus pandemic.
If the Biden administration chooses to continue that policy, it'll be a little easier for them logistically to deal with more people. Even if from a capacity standpoint, you're not reaching overwhelmed numbers, the idea of media attention to a border crisis or media attention to rising numbers, coupled with the fact that immigration hawks are already saying that any rise in numbers will be because people are enthusiastic about a Biden amnesty, might make the people who were making the decisions in 2014 a little bit worried about being seen as being too aggressively left or to aggressively dovish.
Amy: Open armed.
Dara: Yes, exactly on the issue.
Amy: Dara Lind covers immigration policy for ProPublica. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA began under the Obama administration in August of 2012. The first lawsuit challenging its legality was filed that same month. Now DACA grants temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
Ciriac Alvarez Valle: Hi, my name is Ciriac Alvarez Valle. I am currently a DACA recipient living in Salt Lake City, Utah. My family immigrated to the US in 2001 when I was about five years old. My family has called Utah home for the past 20 years.
I grew up in the same city, went to elementary, middle school, high school and college in Salt Lake. Utah's been home and it's been a good journey for my family from the people that we've met who have been supportive in our lives despite our immigration status.
Amy: DACA recipients are awarded some security and stability, but it's not a long-term solution. There is a renewal process, they must go through every couple of years.
Ciriac: I got DACA when I was a senior in high school. Right in the middle of my senior year was when my application was approved and I've had DACA ever since and it's been eight years, seven years now. Because of DACA I was able to one, have hope for the future.
I think it allowed me to see more stability in my life than I had imagined before and two, I was able to pay my way through college. I graduated from the University of Utah in 2017 and now I work full-time as a policy analyst that Voices for Utah Children.
Amy: The DACA program itself is actually quite popular. A recent Pew Research survey found that almost three-quarters of Americans favor granting permanent legal status to immigrants who came illegally to the US when they were children. Even so, Congress has been deadlocked on the issue and the DACA program continues to face legal challenges.
Dianne Solis: Hi, I'm Dianne Solis. I'm a senior writer at the Dallas Morning News. I write often about immigration and social justice. It's been a litigation roller coaster for those who hold DACA. There's about 650,000 people who hold DACA Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
There's new litigation that began in 2018, when the state of Texas filed suit against the US government. Trump was already in office. He'd already announced that he wanted to end DACA. MALDEF the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund jumped in and said, they doubted that Trump would adequately defend DACA so they were going to.
They got 22 DACA recipients together and so now they're defending DACA. It's been on a slow track but now next week, there will be a hearing in Houston on this litigation. It's the only litigation that deals with whether DACA is lawful.
Amy: If the judge rules against DACA, what happens then? There are folks who try to bring it to a higher court and argue it. Does it go to the Supreme Court? What happens?
Dianne: Absolutely. MALDEF has said they will immediately appeal. We could have this back at the Supreme Court but it's unlikely that it would end immediately. The MALDEF attorneys feel that it's unlikely that [unintelligible 00:17:03] immediately end it and that there would be a phase-out of the work permits. DACA provides a two-year work permit, and a deportation reprieve.
Amy: Is the only way then to ensure that the DACA program exists without the roller coaster-like ride, as you pointed out that it is entrenched into into law is that Congress has to pass some legislation. It cannot continue in this executive order limbo.
Dianne: That is what the immigration advocates and those that hold DACA want. They want permanent legislation that puts them on a pathway to US citizenship. As we know, Congress has been in gridlock for a long, long time over controversial issues.
All that could change given after the outcome in Georgia with the Senate but could this Limbo go on and on? Well, we do have another situation where there is a limbo that has gone on and on. It's something that's known as TPS, Temporary Protected Status. We've got Salvadorans who've been in Temporary Protected Status for about 20 years.
Amy: There's a history here, there's a precedent here for the US immigration policy to basically go along in this year by year fashion or administration to administration fashion, rather than being actual settle the law.
Dianne: Definitely. There's definite history for that. For those that hold these limbo statuses, it's very hard for folks to plan their life in one year or two year increments. It's difficult to plan a career, to plan to get married to have children if you have the threat of deportation hanging over you. It builds emotional stress.
Amy: Dianne Solis, I really appreciate you taking the time to help walk us through this process. Thank you for all you do in covering it for the Dallas Morning News.
Dianne: Well, thank you for having me.
Amy: Ciriac Alvarez Valle the DACA recipient we heard from at the top of our segment, she can breathe a sigh of relief for at least another two years. She learned this week that her application had been renewed. She told us what that means for her personally.
Ciriac: With my new DACA renewal that means I have my DACA card for another two years, which is really great and can help me as I think through my future as I plan going back to school. I am going to continue working this year and then applying to grad school programs this upcoming Fall, and then hopefully next fall starting school grad school program.
I think part of that hope does come also from the Biden administration, knowing that even though I may only have a two-year DACA renewal, I do have hope that one, there won't be as many challenges to the DACA program these next couple of years coming from the administration itself and two, hoping for a permanent solution from Congress. These next couple of four years.
Amy: Since November, we've been talking to the newly elected members of Congress, checking in with them before they're sworn in on January third. This week I sat down with-
Cliff Bentz: Cliff Bentz. I'm the Congressman-elect from Oregon Congressional District Two.
Amy: Bentz is a Republican and like his predecessor Congressman Greg Walden, he'll be the only Republican serving an Oregon's delegation. I started out by asking him to describe his district.
Cliff: Well, Oregon Two is one of the largest congressional districts in the United States. There's much debate about exactly where it fits on the list, but I think its number seven. It's just a fraction less than 70,000 square miles.
It's, as my predecessor, Congressman Walden likes to say bigger than any state East of the Mississippi, and then he has many other means of trying to show how large the district is. It takes about seven to eight hours to drive across it. It's a beautiful space, very, very varied in how its geography exists. It's a beautiful place if you like lots of open space because we have a lot of it.
Wonderful people in it, ranchers farmers. We have a really, really wide variety of folks. We have the Columbia River on the north side, we have California on the south. We have Nevada, Idaho toward the East. It's a very, very different when it comes to the people that live within it, which I like.
Amy: You're coming into a Washington DC where Republicans are in the minority though by a smaller margin than many had expected. What can you tell them and what did you learn about being in the minority party where, in your case you had a governor that was a Democrat, come to Washington, it's the President, who's the Democrat.
What did you learn about working with the majority party bipartisanship? What worked, what didn't work? Should we throw our hands up and say, it's never going to work. You can't cross party lines these days, or what?
Cliff: I hope it's not the latter. I would say that what I learned is that you have to rely if you're in the minority a lot on the majority, on what they're going to allow you to do. It's up to them. I learned in the last couple of years I was in the Oregon state Senate that the politics of Portland, Oregon had made it extraordinarily difficult for my Democrat friends in the Senate to even allow me as a Republican, to be at the table.
I was the co-chair of the Carbon Committee, so old carbon committee and I was frozen out of the discussions for five months on a very, very serious cap and trade bill. One of the more aggressive approaches to managing carbon that I've seen.
I wasn't allowed in the room and that was because my Democrat friends told me later the folks that put them in office back in Portland didn't want a Republican in the room and so they didn't allow me in.
Ultimately, that meant that we, Republican senators walked out to deny the Democrats a quorum and thus prevented the Cap and Trade Bill from passing. I will share with you, and I've told it to everybody that that's not the right way to do business. The right way to do business is try to sit down and work these things out, but if you're not at the table, it's pretty tough to do.
The thing I learned when I was in Salem is that if I'd worked really hard to know more about the issues than anybody else at the table, generally, that had a value and generally, people wanted to hear what you had to say.
If they all viewed the problems as a common problem, as opposed to just somebody's problem one side or the others, then they wanted good thinking and hard work. I'm going to take that thought to Washington DC and hope that working hard and showing up and thinking and being civil will work.
Amy: I think a lot of people are hoping for the same thing, and it's clear that that's something that President-Elect Biden is also counting on and is something that he campaigned on. He also campaigned on a pretty aggressive climate agenda, including zero net emissions by 2050.
I'm wondering, as we think about the issues of climate going forward, the kinds of things you think you could support or work with Democrats or work with an administration getting actually accomplished. Where are the places Democrats and Republicans could come together on this?
Cliff: There are many things in the climate space that work for large parts of my district that look suspiciously like adaptation. Irrigation, for example, as a means of adapting to a dry climate. We irrigate an awful lot of CD2.
If you use words like adaptation and sequestration and innovation, those words resonate with people on both sides of the aisle. If you can show people that you can save them money by using electric cars, for example, rather than paying for fuel, they'll knock you down to get to an electric car.
This is proven by if you go to a hardware store now, how many people are buying electric drills that have a cord on them. No, there'll be buying drills that have a battery because they're so much more convenient.
You need to find those and there are a lot of them as people get smarter about all these things. Innovation happens that you can find common ground and you can move forward. On one side of the aisle, you'll be saying, "Hey, this is because of saving money." On the other side of the aisle, people will be saying, "Hey, it's reducing carbon."
Those are the kinds of opportunities that exist all over the place. What ends up happening is people get caught up in the politics of it, and that's too bad because it makes it very, very difficult.
Amy: Well, and your district unfortunately suffered incredible devastation with wildfires this year. Talk about how the issue of climate change has impacted the kinds of fires that you saw and whether that's the kind of thing that can also bring Democrats and Republicans together.
That you may be a Democrat sitting in Portland Oregon, but you see these wildfires going on in the districts you live in and say, "Well, gosh, there has to be a way we can together make sure stuff like this doesn't happen anymore."
Cliff: One of the problems in talking about forests, most people, myself included have a very difficult time understanding the sheer scale of the problem because probably if you look at Northern California, Oregon, Washington, you have about 100 million acres of forest and this year 1 million of those acres in Oregon burned up. I think, three million down in California. That means we still have 96% of the forest to burn, and we don't want it to burn.
The sheer size of the problem is extremely hard for people to understand. The number that was thrown about and how we would try to address this issue, just in Oregon was $44 billion. Well, we don't have $44 billion.
The other thing that generally is overlooked is how long this problem is going to take to fix. If we stopped generating carbon tomorrow, it would be 40 years before things perceptively changed.
What we have to do now is address the immediate problem and then if people can say, "Well, it's dryer because of climate change." Let's assume it. If it's going to take 40 years to address the issue and that assumed we stopped generating carbon tomorrow, this is a long-term problem that needs immediate attention and long-term attention.
Two approaches. The first one is to do a risk analysis to let people know what they're facing and how likely it is that their house is going to burn out. We lost 2,700 homes down in Bedford, and we lost 600, 700 homes just outside of Salem to fire.
The one down in Medford was not so much forest involved, it was a different issue, but still, those kinds of risks are up and down the West Coast and we need to let people know what they need to do to save themselves in the short run.
In the long run, that's a great big huge issue and it needs so much work and it's not just one solution, it's just going to be dozens of solutions to try to address this issue. It's huge. One thing I want to point out, why you asked this question, a lot of people don't understand that the additional CO2 in the air, is driving much more aggressive growth of the forest.
12%, 13%, 14%, more growth than used to be the case. Just because there's so much more CO2 in the air, the trees are busy sequestering. This makes the problem even more difficult to deal with.
Amy: You raise a really good point which is, there's a short term and the long term. You've been in politics for a little while now and you're coming to Washington. How challenging is it to get political figures to think outside of just the immediate short term?
Cliff: Well, it's hard and social media has made it even more difficult. When you come at it from my standpoint, having spent so many years in this space, you realize that a short term solution is really defrauding the people you're representing. You're not doing your job.
That short term gain is just not worth it and somehow, you've got to tell people, "Hey, this is a long term play and we're all going to have to work together over time and eventually we'll get this problem solved." But boy, our whole society seems to be-- They want immediate gratification. This COVID situation is a great example. People have been forced to actually wait. It's a real lesson.
Amy: How has COVID impacted you and your constituents? Obviously, we know the toll that it's taking nationally, but if you were talking to folks in your community specifically, how are they processing this moment?
Cliff: Well, it's a huge challenge. In fact, the local restaurants in my little town, asked me yesterday, if I would please come to a meeting with them Sunday at 2:00 in the afternoon, up in a little coffee shop. We used to go there every morning.
We don't now, because you don't get to go in. This is true across the entire landscape of restaurants in Oregon and they're going broke. The people, their lives are being destroyed. It's not just that space, it's all kinds of spaces like that.
These people are desperate and they're saying, "Hey, we know you're not in the state government anymore, but you know all of us. Would you please come down and give us some hope?" It's really, really challenging. This is really bad.
Of course, we want the work that they're doing in Congress now to try to help some of these people bridge over next year, because I think it's going to take that to get back to where we all want to be. Some people are doing really well in this situation, and a whole bunch are doing really-- It's really bad. How we try to help is a real question. I'm not sure what I'm going to say when I go down there on Sunday other than, I'll do my best to help.
Amy: Congressman-elect Bentz, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. I wish you the best of luck. Please stay safe out there.
Cliff: [chuckles] Thank you so much. Of course, you also.
Amy: Cliff Bentz, is the Republican Congressman-Elect for Oregon's 2nd congressional district.
Amy: It's hard to believe we are just a week away from Christmas and two weeks away from the beginning of a brand new year, but as we toast away 2020 and it's many miseries, we also know that we're just turning pages on a calendar.
Come January 1st, we will still have a virus raging, people hurting and a political system in need of repair. That's why we need to dedicate our celebrations this holiday season to the struggles still ahead. To see the new year, not as a time to forget but a time to recommit.
Even with a vaccine on its way, we know that getting it out to everyone who needs it, is going to test our patience and resolve and it will test supply lines and distribution plans. It will also test our ability to stop the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories.
Plenty of people who know better are already trying to undercut faith in the vaccine and the lethality of COVID itself. Enjoy that eggnog, light those candles, give out virtual Zoom hugs to your friends and family, but also remember that 2021 is going to test our endurance and patience.
That's all for us today. Our senior producer is Amber Hall, Patricia Yacob is our associate producer, Polly Irungu, is our digital editor, David Gable, is our executive assistant, Jake Howard is our director and sound designer, Vince Fairchild, is our board op and engineer. Our executive producer is Leigh Hill.
You can call us anytime at 877-8-MY-TAKE or send us a Tweet on @amyewalter. The show is, @thetakeaway. Thanks so much for listening. It's politics with Amy Walter, on The Takeaway.
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