Legalize Child Migrants and Build a Wall

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The fate of the Dreamers is an issue that has come back to life in Congress, thanks to aggressive action by a small group of House Republicans. Why now? “We're boiling over,” said Representative Fred Upton of Michigan. “It's got to get done.”

The 16-term Republican is right. Congress needs to resolve the status of the young migrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Momentum had ground to a halt — until about 20 or so House Republicans recently defied Speaker Paul Ryan and tried to force a series of votes on immigration policy over his objections, using a parliamentary procedure. The group needs just a handful of additional GOP members in order to go around the speaker and compel a floor debate on immigration.

However it happens in Congress — the parliamentary move, a single bill supported by House leadership — what Republicans should offer is obvious: Legal status for the Dreamers and additional security for the southern U.S. border. Donald Trump is president, so that security must include some system like the “border wall,” one of his central campaign promises.

Given their rhetoric on the Dreamers, Democrats — who bear a good share of the blame for the failure of recent congressional efforts — would look foolish turning this down. Such a proposal would put to the test whether the Democrats care more about the Dreamers than they oppose the border wall. And Republicans would be handing the president his wall and a major victory, which they should be happy to accept in exchange for legalizing the Dreamers.

There’s plenty here to negotiate. Should legal status be provided only to the 700,000 people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was authorized through (constitutionally dubious) executive action by President Barack Obama and ended by President Trump? Or should all the Dreamers — all two million or so of them — qualify? Should that legal status include a path to citizenship? At what level should the enhanced border security be funded? What precisely does a border wall mean?

But nothing else besides the border wall and legal status for Dreamers should be included.

In January, Trump proposed a path to citizenship for the Dreamers in exchange for reducing legal immigration, restricting the types of family members who can be sponsored for green cards, and eliminating the diversity visa lottery, along with his border wall. There’s a time for reasonable disagreement over the size of legal immigrant flows, the reach of family reunification policy and the like — but given how this went before, the current go-round is clearly not that time.

A solution must be found for the Dreamers, and the fewer complicating factors, the better.

For one thing, it would be economic-policy malpractice not to give the Dreamers legislated legal status. DACA recipients represent hundreds of thousands of young people who already earn on average more than double the federal minimum wage, of whom nearly one of five are earning an advanced degree, and who have already been granted legal status that is now in jeopardy. 

More than that, though, the Dreamers have come to symbolize the humanity of U.S. immigration policy — of our attitude toward immigrants.

That attitude looks very bad right now. It is remarkable, to take the most recent example, that the Trump administration is making plans to split up families who enter the U.S. illegally — remarkable and cruel. White House chief of staff John Kelly, when asked about the policy of taking a mother away from her children, answered, “the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States.” That is a point, but not the point. The point is not their illegal action, but that they are human beings with inherent dignity who should not be forcibly separated from their families.

If the U.S. can’t provide legal status to the Dreamers, then there could be serious ramifications for the nation’s social and economic life. It is simply a fact that immigrants have contributed greatly to both. The nation’s ability to act as a magnet for the talented and hardworking born abroad should not be taken for granted. Many immigrants could eventually decide there are better places in the world to make their new home than a country that offered the hand of welcome to Dreamers, only to take it away, that separates mothers and children at the border, that has political leaders who regularly make immigrants into objects to be feared and distrusted.

A good way to ensure this doesn’t happen? Start with providing legal status for the Dreamers. And build the wall.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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