Whatever happened to a straight, up-or-down vote on DACA, the program for undocumented young people brought to this country as children?
That was the president’s implied promise last fall when he killed the Dreamers program but gave Congress a March 5 deadline to “bring me a bill and I’ll sign it.”
Instead, he’s not only backtracked on his declared support for Dreamers but attached his own immigration priorities to a bill giving them a path to citizenship: extending and fortifying the border wall with Mexico for $25 billion, ending the diversity visa lottery program and reducing family-based immigration.
At least Trump has a more-or-less firm list of what he wants, unlike a month ago when congressional negotiators couldn’t get him to commit to a position from one day to the next. The result, in part, was a three-day partial shutdown until leaders went around the president and promised to take up a bill of their own in three weeks.
So now there are several bipartisan DACA citizenship proposals on the table, including one in the Senate co-sponsored by Arizona’s Sen. John McCain. It’s not a standalone DACA bill, but it also doesn’t require a wall up front. It tells Homeland Security to assess how best to improve security at the border as well as in the interior, then submit a plan to Congress. Ideally, it would evaluate other immigration policies, including employer-based background checks and visa overstays, as the basis for comprehensive immigration reform. If a newly fortified wall emerges as a justifiable security project, at least it won’t be solely because the president promised it during his campaign.
The reason for taking up DACA separately and now is solely because of Trump’s cancellation order. A federal judge has already overruled last October’s reapplication deadline set by the White House and said that Dreamers could continue to apply for two-year extensions while Congress debates the future of their program. Nevertheless, as we have reported, it is a nerve-wracking time for Dreamers who have used their legal status to get work permits, driver’s licenses and in-state college tuition. Having all of that taken away on short notice, plus facing the uncertainty of deportation if DACA ends, is unnecessarily cruel.
It is also economically short-sighted. Study after study has shown the Dreamers outperform their U.S. citizen counterparts in educational persistence and attainment, job performance and small business formation. With unemployment at record lows, they clearly aren’t taking jobs away from Americans, even if they are out-hustling them. Those areas of the country with more immigrants – and that includes Flagstaff -- show economic growth at nearly twice the level of low-immigrant populations.
As for crime and social distrust caused by foreign arrivals, they are urban legends. The incarceration rate for immigrant males between 18 and 39 is less than half the rate of 3.3 percent for native-born. And immigrants, studies show, value family structure more strongly than native-born as shown by out-of-wedlock births, and they assimilate as Americans and stop identifying with native homelands within the first generation.
The problem now with the DACA renewal, which has widespread and bipartisan public support, is that Dreamers are being held hostage by restrictionists who cannot afford to acknowledge how immigrants have built this country with their industry, faithfulness and self-discipline. Instead, they are cherry-picking criminal anecdotes or mischaracterizing the vetting process that already takes place in the diversity lottery program.
We think it is time to call their bluff and have Congress send the president an up-or-down bill on DACA renewal. If a Dreamer bill must contain other items, then visa overstays and hiring enforcement would be good places to start pending a more comprehensive reform plan. We’re betting Congress could override a presidential veto once they hear from a public that shares the Dreamers’ dreams instead of being threatened by them.