The Trump administration is attempting to push hard-line immigration measures on the backs of “dreamers,” the young immigrants who were brought here illegally by their parents and granted a reprieve from deportation by President Obama.
But these young men and women, whose lives were upended by President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last month, are not bargaining chips. They should not be used as hostages to secure campaign promises or the demands of an anti-immigrant base.
Congress must not let its goodwill toward dreamers be hijacked by the White House’s immigration-policy priorities, especially when some of them are so ill-considered, un-American and cruel.
Released Sunday, the wish list of proposals includes recommendations for enhancing border security, improving interior enforcement and creating a merit-based immigration system.
Chief among the border-security measures is the funding and construction of a border wall. This monument to xenophobia — which Trump has claimed Mexico would pay for — would cost taxpayers billions, harm border communities and provide a negligible benefit to border security. That the president continues to tout this as a viable option beggars belief.
Also under the guise of security is a call to harden the border against unaccompanied minors, mostly coming from Central America, and family units (an adult and at least one child). This goes hand in hand with an effort to tighten asylum standards.
In a system that is already stacked against asylum seekers — including complicated terminology and no right to an attorney — this can only mean that children and families fleeing horrific violence will find themselves deported back to untenable situations.
Putting aside that some of the instability in their home countries is the result of past U.S. foreign policies, it is irresponsible and heartless to remove a child whose circumstances were so desperate that putting their life at risk to reach the United States was seen as an opportunity.
Regarding interior enforcement, the president wants to punish so-called sanctuary cities — in general, places that do not aid the federal government in enforcing immigration law — as well as incentivize states and cities to do the same.
This puts even more of a burden on already overworked local law enforcement and hurts the relationship between police and the community, as fearful immigrants shy away from interacting with police, either as victims or witnesses.
The president also proposed ending extended-family “chain migration” by limiting who U.S. citizens can sponsor to be a permanent resident to only spouses and minor children. The proposals would also establish a point-based system for green cards.
The first proposal needlessly breaks up families, while the second ignores the realities of the different kinds of foreign-born workers the U.S. economy needs. While high-skilled, highly educated immigrants have always been a boon to America (although they may think twice if they can’t bring their parents with them), the agricultural industry depends on lower-skilled labor, and both types of immigrants would benefit from a functional guest-worker program.
There are some salvageable proposals in the list of policy priorities — including hiring more judges and attorneys to speed up immigration courts, strengthening the E-Verify system that prevents employers from hiring someone in the country illegally, and combating visa fraud and overstays.
But if Trump, as he has said, wants to deal with this situation “with great heart,” he will recognize that while his proposals may be a good start for negotiations on comprehensive immigration reform, they are poison to any serious legislation that tackles the fate of dreamers.
Congress should ignore the president, move past the hard-liners and work toward a humane and practical reform.