This week, the Trump Administration provided Congress with an opportunity: to make immigration law the right way, through legislation, not executive orders. Will they seize the moment, or squander it on scoring political points?
Hyperbolic reactions from the expected special interest groups, and from many politicians, to the Trump Administration's decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (an Obama-era executive order put in place to protect illegal youths from deportation known as DACA) have been predictable and counter-productive. It will continue to be tempting for Democrats in particular to exploit immigration as a political wedge issue – painting Trump and all Republicans as racist and anti-dreamer. (Dreamers are youths who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.) This approach would be both bad government and bad politics.
The winding down of DACA is the perfect time for Congress to develop effective, compassionate policy on immigration – something most Americans strongly agree we need. The best reforms will be developed through the legislative process, not executive orders – and that's something else both sides can agree on.
In the meantime, leaders should stay away from inflammatory language and fear mongering. Mass deportations will not happen – it is simply not logistically possible, and it is not what the Trump Administration has called for. It is worth noting how Attorney General Sessions described the government's next steps:
The Department of Justice has advised the President and the Department of Homeland Security that DHS should begin an orderly, lawful wind down, including the cancellation of the memo that authorized this program. … This [wind down process] will enable DHS to conduct an orderly change and fulfill the desire of this administration to create a time period for Congress to act—should it so choose. We firmly believe this is the responsible path.
Sessions' words about a "wind down" were rational and calm, indicating an approach that is not drastic or dramatic, not gratuitously painful or overly political. The end of DACA and the beginning of lawful immigration reform can, and should, be handled with this level of maturity and respect – for dreamers for American citizens, and for our nation's tradition of the rule of law.
There are no easy or simple answers on immigration, and it's okay for our leaders to acknowledge that fact. I believe they can find legislative solutions that strengthen America, recognize our proud immigrant tradition, keep the economy strong, and keep our citizens safe and our borders secure. The core elements of President George W. Bush's immigration reform proposals, for example, met those goals through effective border security, a functioning and humane guest worker program, and a pathway to earned legal status for the undocumented. Given the six-month time frame Congress will have before DACA ends, they would do well to start their work with Bush's already well-developed proposal.
President Trump even Tweeted on Tuesday that he would revisit the issue if Congress cannot act.
If the end of DACA is turned into a political screaming match, an opportunity to move forward on immigration reform will be lost. DACA will end roughly and badly. If President Trump's critics encourage and enable this approach, they themselves will be responsible for derailing that which they say they hold dear: fair, compassionate treatment for dreamers.
Voters, in turn, will punish those who mishandle this moment. They will see it as political malpractice, or worse. Their desire for solutions, and for action, is why Donald Trump was elected president. Americans are weary of bloviating and politics. They want things to get fixed, period.
And the voters are right: Our immigration laws and enforcement need to be fixed. They are right to expect their representatives to do this, and President Trump is right to encourage Congress to act. The end of DACA can, and should, lead to immigration reform done the right way: through legislating.
Commentary by Hector Barreto, chairman of The Latino Coalition, one of the largest Latino advocacy groups in the U.S. He is also a member of the board of the United States Chamber of Commerce. He was administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration under President George W. Bush.
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