Volume 22 Issue 3, March 2018


From the very outset it was expected that US President Donald Trump would face his biggest battle on the issue of immigration throughout his presidency. Soon after assuming office, the travel ban (termed the Muslim Ban, by many) drew sharp criticism from all corners and rallied an entire nation to demand its government to revoke a decision largely viewed as uninformed and impulsive. What followed was a series of reversals, revisions and ultimately a watered-down version of the travel ban that focused on seven countries deemed “high risk” to US national security.

Immigration has once again been at the center of US politics as the US government shut down on January 19. The government shutdown as Democrats and Republicans were unable to reach an agreement on a spending bill that would grant protection to undocumented immigrants who fell under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) programme, the Obama-era’s signature immigration policy. Democrats refused to approve a federal funding bill if it didn’t include provisions to protect the nearly 800,000 recipients: undocumented children brought to the US by their parents. President Trump announced the end of DACA last year, giving Congress till March to resolve the issue. Attacking the Democrats, Trump tweeted, “The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked.” Democrats are wary of making changes to family immigration as well as supporting the end of the diversity visa that the Republicans demand.

Since 1976, the US government has shut down a total of 18 times, with the longest period of 21 days lasting from December 16, 1995 – January 05, 1996 during Bill Clinton’s presidency. The last US government shutdown took place in 2013 and lasted 16 days during Barack Obama’s presidency. During the last shutdown, Democrats and Republicans were at loggerheads over funding President Obama’s landmark healthcare bill: the Affordable Care Act dubbed “Obamacare” and negotiating over the debt ceiling which allows the US Treasury to borrow money to continue paying debts.

According to financial rating agency, Standard & Poor’s assessment, a week-long shutdown could cost the US economy close to $6 billion per week. Other than a monetary dent, a shutdown can be devastating for many federal employees as well as generate serious repercussions for the economy. Close to 700,000 federal employees, deemed “nonessential,” are given leave without pay till the government resumes functioning. Even if workers are paid retroactively, the US government will still suffer from “lost productivity” from almost one million people during the shutdown. National museums, public parks and monuments are also closed thus causing direct harm to the tourism industry as visitors will not be able to enter public attractions. In addition, visa and passport processing is also halted.
Government services pertaining to national security will continue unabated which includes the military, law enforcement and air traffic control.

True to his form, President Trump took to Twitter to address Senate Republicans and call for a “nuclear option” to end the impasse. Currently a 60-vote rule requires


Democrats and Republicans to vote on legislation to get it passed. Trump’s option advocates lowering the majority needed to pass a vote to 51 votes. Media reports have suggested though that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not support the option and it is unlikely that House Republicans would be able to shore up 51 votes on their own. The 60-vote rule means that at least nine Democrats must vote yes. Dissent and disagreement within the party has been clear with party lines explicitly drawn on multiple issues with immigration being a decisive one. While the Republican Party has historically favoured a more cautious approach towards immigration policies, President Trump’s aggressive rhetoric and bellicose policies have created significant discomfort within the party and ruffled many feathers belonging to senior politicians and career diplomats.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Trump’s comments, “Americans are dreamers too” drew sharp criticism, especially from young voters. “Dreamers” is the term used largely for DACA recipients who came to the US when under the age of 16 and have lived there continuously since June 2007. Most Dreamers are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and the largest numbers live in California, Texas, Florida and New York. If Trump manages to end the programme, new applications under DACA will not be processed. More than that, those currently in the programme will lose legal status and permits such as being eligible to work or attend college, beginning March 05, 2018. Gradually, all DACA recipients will be stripped of all permits and status by March 2020 and be deported back to countries they have no familiarity with.

While it is unlikely that the US government will remain in shutdown for weeks to come, it is clear that compromises will have to be made on both ends. While the Democrats will undoubtedly face some blame for a government shutdown, what they have managed to achieve has been nothing short of a monumental feat. Ensuring that immigration remains at the top of the agenda and the Trump administration’s policies are explicitly revealed to the public has never been more important in American history as it is today.

Advocating to build a wall on the border with Mexico, introduce a travel ban and more stringent immigration policies, President Trump for his part remains adamant to follow through on all his campaign promises. Adopting strong positions on issues that are sensitive and deeply divisive paint an ugly and dangerous picture of 21st century America. None of Trump’s political moves and decisions have come without some support, be it ending DACA, building a wall against Mexico, or moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. The next presidential candidate will face the incredibly difficult task of convincing voters on the sheer idiocy and danger of such decisions and eventually as President, an even more uphill task to put those reversals in motion.

The writer is a 2017-18 research fellow with Concord Consulting and is based in Islamabad.

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