Democrats and Republicans tend to want very different things when it comes to immigration.
So it should be a beacon of hope in an otherwise bleak political climate, that Democrats, and a large number of Republicans, seem to agree that something should be done to protect the roughly 750,000 so-called Dreamers, who are at risk of losing their temporary legal status unless Congress takes action.
Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was almost certainly unconstitutional. At best, it was an act of gratuitous executive overreach by a president who claimed he lacked the power or authority to shield over a million unauthorized immigrants from enforcement action just months before doing it.
But the program’s objective — to protect unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from possible, albeit unlikely, deportation — was a good one. Lots of conservatives support it.
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Creating a means through which these mostly young people could stay in the U.S. and attend college or begin working is the kind of measure upon which broader immigration reform — that includes better enforcement of existing laws, including those that made this class of immigrants possible — should be built.
There are, of course, pundits and some policymakers who insist that anything short of a clean DACA bill is akin to “holding these young people hostage.” These same people tend to forget that not long ago, an otherwise audacious majority Democratic Congress backed by a Democratic president never made passing such legislation a priority.
Missed opportunities mean compromise is the only way forward and Republicans are doing their part by offering some.
This week, Texas Republican Will Hurd joined Pete Aguilar, a California Democrat and whip for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, in introducing a bill that would preserve protections for DACA recipients while beefing up border security and other enforcement measures.
In addition to offering qualifying individuals the opportunity to get in line for a green card, provided they meet certain requirements, Hurd says the proposal would make that protection available to about 1.2 million eligible individuals, not merely the 750,000 participants currently in the DACA program.
On the enforcement side, the bill would attempt to reduce the backlog in immigration courts by adding more immigration judges and attorneys to the federal ranks.
It also borrows heavily from the “Smart Wall” legislation Hurd introduced last year, which would rely on high-tech resources like sensors, radar and drones to secure the border, instead of the physical barriers promised by Trump.
Given that his district spans over 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, Hurd has some credibility on this issue. And his enthusiasm for finding a viable solution makes his proposal more appealing.
Hurd describes the bill as “narrowly crafted” — it’s not exactly — but it’s a good start, and both he and Aguilar said they hope it could be the basis for the DACA fix. They acknowledge that “other elements” may need to be added to secure passage and signature.
Some of those elements are included in a bill introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Mike McCaul (R-TX), Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), which would end green card provisions for relatives other than spouses and children, require employers to use the E-Verify system to ensure that they hire legal workers, and seek to transform our legal immigration system to one that is merit-based.
The legislation would preserve DACA protections for individuals currently in the program in what Goodlatte called an effort “to do DACA right.”
Preserving DACA enjoys widespread public support, but so does E-verify, so connecting the two seems reasonable.
And while none of these bills is a perfect fix, one thing is evident: Republicans are seeking a solution.
Democrats might appease their base if they refuse to come to the table. Or they might be responsible for tanking good faith efforts to help 750,000 people for purely political reasons.
I hope not.