Moderate Republicans aren’t the only ones facing difficult options now that President Donald Trump has handed Congress the responsibility of addressing the legal status of 800,000 immigrant youths previously protected by executive order. For Democrats, the cost of passing a proposed Dream Act to protect immigrant youths from deportation probably will mean their acquiescence to some initial funding for Trump’s border wall.
This is one instance where a spirit of true bipartisanship and compromise must prevail if either side has any hope of getting what it wants. Hardline Republicans insist that a border wall, or an expensive package of border-security measures, is a prerequisite to any discussion of a broader immigration reform bill.
Democrats and even some moderate Republicans view an extension of President Barack Obama’s executive order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, as essential to avert the cruel spectacle of arresting and deporting immigrant youths en masse. Republicans don’t want to enter an election year labeled by hardline primary challengers as having been soft on illegal immigration.
Trump has threatened deportation of DACA enrollees if Congress doesn’t approve some funding for his promised wall. On Tuesday, he canceled DACA but delayed enforcement for six months while Congress works out a permanent fix.
These youths, brought here as children, hardly fit the profile Trump has painted of undocumented immigrants as “rapists” and drug smugglers. The youths tend to be highly educated and upwardly mobile. In fact, the vast majority of the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants are law-abiding except for their original sin of crossing the border illegally or overstaying their visas.
Addressing the DACA issue is but a small part of the enormous job of fixing immigration laws. Prodded by previous Republican and Democratic administrations, Congress has failed repeatedly since 2007 to negotiate an acceptable comprehensive immigration reform package. Neither party seems willing to accept the political heartburn that comes with the issue.
Trump, trying himself to avoid being labeled soft on illegal immigration, has inadvertently forced Congress to confront this issue once and for all. Trump has given members a March deadline, just as primary season approaches for the 2018 elections.
Democrats must not allow the border wall issue to become a DACA deal breaker, even if they have to swallow their pride and agree to initial funding. Republicans will have to explain why U.S. taxpayers have to fund an expensive project that, at best, can only help keep future immigrants out. It won’t do a thing to address the 11 million already here.
If border security is what it takes to force through a serious immigration reform deal, so be it. The House’s two-year election cycle means the timing will never be ideal. But the discussion has to start somewhere. Now’s the time.