Credit: Molly Adams/Flickr

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham finally said out loud what many legislators are saying behind closed doors.

The reason there will be no agreement as long as Miller is in charge of negotiations is because he is holding Dreamers hostage in order to force changes to legal immigration. He made that clear during a meeting last fall that he arranged with people from Breitbart.

Miller’s goal on this occasion was to sell the group on a compromise: a possible deal offering protections to the young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” in exchange for tougher immigration provisions, such as an end to family-sponsored migration…

“Be a possible ‘yes,’ be open to doing something that makes you very uncomfortable on DACA in exchange for substantive structural reforms that may have been out of reach,” a senior White House official said, summarizing Miller’s pitch on the condition of anonymity to share details of a private moment. “That’s the whole game.”

In addition to funding for Trump’s wall, the two items we’ve heard most about from this administration and Republican hardliners are (1) an end to family-sponsored migration (what they call “chain migration”) and (2) an end to the Diversity Visa program (what they call the “visa lottery system”). Based on this administration’s recent actions, we also know that they are determined to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants from countries affected by armed conflict or natural disasters. Here are those groups broken down by numbers:

  1. Family-sponsored migration – 500,000/year
  2. Diversity Visa program – 50,000/year
  3. Temporary Protected Status – 320,000 (number of people in U.S. w/ TPS)

What Miller and other immigration hardliners don’t like about these programs is that they don’t allow the administration to pick and chose where immigrants to this country come from. Family-sponsored migrants apply for visas based on their ties to someone already in the country, the Diversity Visa program was specifically designed to diversify the immigrant population and TPS is granted to provide relief from war and natural disasters.

Hardliners constantly advocate a “merit-based system” over these programs for legal immigration. What was so damning about Trump’s comments in the recent White House meeting wasn’t just the language he used—he said what others have been dog-whistling when it comes to what they mean by a “merit-based system.”

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.

Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway, whose prime minister he met with Wednesday. The president, according to a White House official, also suggested he would be open to more immigrants from Asian countries because he felt that they help the United States economically.

In addition, the president singled out Haiti, telling lawmakers that immigrants from that country must be left out of any deal, these people said.

“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump said, according to people familiar with the meeting. “Take them out.”

The president didn’t describe a merit-based immigration system; he was talking about a race-based immigration system centered on countries of origin.

What this comes down to is that there is, in fact, an urgency to the Dreamers’ situation, instigated by this administration’s decision to end the DACA program. Stephen Miller’s plan all along has been to use that urgency to force changes to the legal immigration programs that currently benefit what Trump called “shithole” countries and replace them with programs that favor immigrants from countries like Norway (read: white) and Asia (whom many of the nativists see as so-called “model minorities”).

This country’s priorities for legal immigration should be debated in the daylight so that the American people know the stakes. Instead, it is happening behind closed doors via negotiations over a government shutdown, couched in the dog-whistle language of words like “merit-based,” which masks the underlying racism. It is probably safe to assume that people like Miller know they would lose this argument if it were to be held out in the open. Let’s shed a little sunshine, shall we?

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.