It’s been said that Congress moves at two speeds: lightning and glacial. With a swift bipartisan solution taking care of government spending for the next two years, maybe lightning can strike twice as lawmakers turn their attention to immigration.
Although comprehensive reform — legislation that would address the approximately 11 million people in the country illegally — would be ideal, it is far from realistic given the anti-immigration demands, including against legal immigrants, coming from the White House.
What is needed now is a narrow, bipartisan proposal that will protect from deportation the group known as “dreamers,” immigrants brought into the country illegally when they were children, while offering common sense border security measures.
Such a bill was introduced last week by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware. Congress must act and this a good place to start.
The legislation is the Senate version of the Uniting and Securing America Act, which has 54 co-sponsors in the House, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.
Along with offering a path to citizenship to those immigrants who broke immigration law through no fault of their own, many of whom grew up here and know no other place as home, it would improve border security through “the most practical and effective technology available,” including physical barriers where applicable. It does not include money for President Trump’s proposed border wall.
The legislation contemplates the expansion and modernization of high-volume southern border ports of entry — which would help Southern Arizona ports keep up with demand and better compete for trade dollars. It also seeks to eliminate immigration-court backlogs by increasing the number of immigration judges, and works on reforms in Central America to help address what drives people to migrate in the first place.
The bipartisan bill supported by McCain stands in stark contrast to one proposed recently by another Arizona Republican — one that should be avoided.
The Securing America’s Future Act, co-introduced by Rep. Martha McSally contains a few good points about improving security and creating a viable guest-worker program, but it also reads like a wish list for immigration hardliners. McSally’s version would not only authorize Trump’s proposed wall along the southern border — an ineffective, multibillion-dollar monument to xenophobia — it would curtail legal immigration and immediately deport unaccompanied Central American minors seeking asylum. It only gives dreamers renewable legal status, with no immediate path to becoming a legal permanent resident.
This bill is very different from the McCain proposal. McSally previously told us she supported the moderate Recognizing America’s Children Act, which contained a path to citizenship.
Solving the dreamer crisis, created by the president when he scuttled the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last September, should be lawmakers’ utmost priority. It is the kind of issue that shouldn’t be a problem — most Americans support giving these young immigrants a chance and a majority of legislators want to take action — yet the vagaries of Congress seem to frustrate any movement.
What else does the Republican leadership need?
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said his vote on the tax-cut bill in December was contingent on doing something on immigration, and the government shutdown last month led by Democrats quickly ended with a promise by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring immigration legislation to the Senate floor. The rub may be in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s declaration that he is open to a solution “the president will sign.”
Trump’s latest demand is that the legislation include $25 billion in funding for a border wall, but his continued waffling on what he wants, his declared support for dreamers, his stated desire to do something, should be more than enough for Congress to find a workable solution.
The March 5 deadline, when immigrants protected from deportation by DACA will begin to lose that protection, is less than a month away. When Trump ended the program, he said he did so because he considered its creation to be overreach by President Obama. Whatever was to be done, it was up to Congress to do it.
No matter what the president’s current thinking is, whether he is prepared to sacrifice dreamers over a ridiculous campaign promise or if he is ready to act humanely toward a group of immigrants who are American but for their legal status, lawmakers should give him the choice.
The president put this on Congress. Congress should return the favor.