Sen. Kamala Harris speak at a town hall meeting in North Charleston, S.C., February 15, 2019. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)
As she explains on her website, if elected president, Kamala Harris plans to protect 6 million illegal immigrants from deportation and provide 2 million “Dreamers” who were brought here as minors a better chance at green cards and ultimately citizenship — without action from Congress. I agree with David French that this is an abuse of executive power and would deserve to face legal challenges, but here I’d like to talk about a side effect of the plan: It could help Dreamers take green cards away from legal immigrants.
“The plan is not to provide a direct pathway to citizenship for Dreamers,” Art Arthur, a resident fellow in law and policy for the Center for Immigration Studies and a former immigration judge, tells me. “What she wants to do is give them the opportunity to apply for adjustment of status.” In Harris’s own phrasing, she would reinterpret some key passages of current law to make it easier for Dreamers, despite being in the country illegally, to apply through the legal-immigration system if they “have a congressionally-required family- or employment-based grounds to adjust status.”
And in many family and employment categories, numbers are limited and wait lists are long.
To be fair, the easiest Dreamer route to a green card would be to marry a citizen or have a U.S.-born (and thus U.S.-citizen) child over the age of 21. These “immediate family” categories are unlimited. The other available routes allow only a limited number of immigrants each year, however, and they require less direct connections to U.S. entities: employment, siblings, etc. When a Dreamer received a green card in one of these categories, there would be one fewer green card available for someone else. Harris would, in effect, stop a new legal immigrant from settling here in order to adjust the status of someone here illegally.
Is this an avenue for a lawsuit from would-be legal immigrants, in addition to the standard practice of states’ attorneys general filing suit? “They can sue,” Arthur says, “but the odds they’ll be found to have standing are extremely low.”
And however terrible Harris’s proposal may be, one thing it isn’t is sloppy. “It’s wrong, in my opinion, because Congress has spoken to limit the circumstances in which individuals can apply to adjust their status,” Arthur says. “But it’s fairly well-developed.” (This is in stark constrast to the various efforts of certain other candidates.) He notes that Congress deliberately let a special exemption for certain illegal immigrants trying to adjust their status expire about two decades ago.
By the way, cutting legal immigration to provide green cards to illegal immigrants is a compromise idea Fred Bauer once suggested here on NRO.