Washington dealmaking is so out of fashion that we keep rechecking the facts to make sure we aren’t dreaming: President Donald Trump and a fractured Congress have a rare opportunity to come together in order to rescue young immigrants by the hundreds of thousands.
On Tuesday, Trump said he would rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, thus undoing President Barack Obama’s program that gave protected immigration status to people brought to the U.S. as minors without documentation. But rather than shut down the program outright, setting in motion potential deportations, Trump is rooting for Congress to provide a legislative solution that allows the so-called Dreamers to stay, finish school and work. He’s giving lawmakers six months to pass a bill he then would sign.
Putting the onus on Congress is savvy. Trump and other Republicans bristled over DACA because they — rightly — saw Obama’s implementation of immigration policy via executive order as Obama’s overreach of presidential authority. Congress makes the laws, but DACA looks a lot like a president rewriting immigration law to suit the wishes of Democrats. So let’s see the Republican-led Congress fix the problem by passing a bill.
There are about 800,000 in the U.S. They didn’t choose to violate the law to come here; their parents did. Many of these immigrants have no memory of their native countries. Some even thought they were U.S. citizens until they applied for a driver’s license or student financial aid. It would make no sense to deport people educated at public expense who have worked to become contributing members of society. DACA, created by Obama in 2012, offered help to those who arrived before age 16. It barred anyone convicted of a felony, a serious misdemeanor or three or more misdemeanors. It required the young people to stay in school or have a high school diploma or GED.
There are enough kind words being said about these young people on both sides of the aisle to imagine Congress making Obama’s program the law. House Speaker Paul Ryan said he didn’t want Trump to shut down DACA. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has sounded sympathetic. Democratic leaders are jawboning for the program. Business leaders are DACA fans, too: Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, says about 250 Dreamers work for his company, while Microsoft’s president says he’d choose DACA legislation over tax reform as a priority.
Trump said in a statement Tuesday he doesn’t want to punish these young immigrants, either. But he’s caught between what he’s advertised as his big heart and his campaign pledge to get tough on illegal immigration. The president took action Tuesday because Texas and other Republican-stronghold states threatened to challenge DACA in the courts. That’s a reminder that many Americans are opposed to a softened stance on immigration.
Getting past the opposition — on Main Street and on Capitol Hill — won’t be easy. Immigration reform has been chewed over by Congress without an outcome. Several versions of what’s known as the Dream Act — the legislative version of DACA — have kicked around for years. Perhaps, then, the broader circumstances on Capitol Hill can help rally support. There is other legislation that needs passage this fall, including action to raise the debt ceiling and keep the federal government operating. That presents the opportunity for dealmaking. Perhaps a DACA bill gets attached to a budgetary bill, or one that addresses border security. What we wouldn’t want to see, however, is a trade that gives Trump funding for his Mexican wall, an idea we think is a folly.
Of course if we really start dreaming, we’d imagine the DACA debate leads to comprehensive immigration reform to address the millions of people working and paying taxes here while existing in the shadows. For starters, though, we would welcome Republicans and Democrats coming together to help the so-called Dreamers.