The DACA Deal Hiding in Plain Sight

The DACA Deal Hiding in Plain Sight

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Originally published by Politico

Last year, despite heavy lobbying and urgent calls for action by advocates, businesses, law enforcement and voices from conservatives and progressives, Congress was not able to arrive at a permanent legislative solution to allow the roughly 700,000 immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers, to remain in the U.S. after the ending of the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. President Donald Trump stated in September that he hoped Congress would come up with a solution before the six-month termination date. That deadline is fast approaching.

But it’s not too late. Congress has given itself until January 19 to finally fund the government for the current fiscal year, and therefore, bought time for a deal to be crafted. Despite a bipartisan meeting hosted by the president with congressional leaders, there does not seem to be agreement yet on a deal. However, we believe a deal can still be struck—if all sides are willing to reach outside the boxes they currently find themselves in.

The lack of resolution on this issue is a tragedy on many levels—chiefly for the young people whose lives have been in upheaval for months and now risk losing the only home they’ve ever known, but also for our political institutions. Back in September, we said there was an easy deal to be had: permanent legalization for Dreamers in exchange for additional border security. But Republicans insisted on more enforcement and changes to permanent legal immigration in the deal, while Democrats and immigration advocates continued to push publicly for a clean “DREAM Act”—something that was really never in the cards. The result, predictably, has been a stalemate and no action.

As we understand the current state of play, the White House is insisting on funding for its border wall, and efforts to end “chain migration,” the pejorative term for legal, family sponsored immigration that has been part of our law since 1965. Democrats, for their part, seem to have moved toward accepting some border security funding and restrictions on the ability of legalized Dreamers to sponsor their parents for green cards, in exchange for green cards and a path to citizenship for most of the Dreamers. However, the calls for broader limitations on chain migration from the White House and some in Congress, as well as the continued rhetorical issue of the border wall, seem to have put the negotiations in a box.

Past comprehensive immigration reform bills, including the 2013 bipartisan Senate Gang of Eight bill, have included limitations on extended family-sponsored visas as well as ending the diversity visa lottery. However, those provisions were in the context of a larger overhaul of the legal immigration system that included significant changes to the employment-based visa categories (including a move toward “merit-based” immigration) as well as legalization for the majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Dealing with family-based immigration changes outside of that context is something most Democrats and advocates are not willing to do.

However, there may be a way out of the current box on the DACA fix. It necessitates some trust from both sides in the negotiation—something that frankly is a prerequisite for moving forward on any immigration legislation. If the White House, Democrats and congressional Republicans can agree on working together to negotiate a broader overhaul of the legal immigration system as the next immigration legislative priority, they could fairly quickly come to a deal on the Dreamer population, along the lines of where things currently seem to stand: a path to citizenship for Dreamers, border security funding, limitations on parental sponsorship and possibly a negotiated version of Kate’s Law or the House-passed gang bill.

That type of legislation would give everyone in the negotiation something to call a “win,” as well as some hard pills to swallow. But success could build momentum for the next round of discussions over the legal immigration system—one that will necessarily involve more constituencies, including the business community, in more substantive ways.

Would such a deal have negative consequences for some in the immigrant community? Yes, unfortunately. But the current administration doesn’t need Congress to give it more permission to crack down on immigrants, and to the extent that the negotiated deal could result in some additional due process measures along with the enforcement provisions, it might mitigate some concerns. But it would also cement a permanent status for Dreamers and, hopefully, demonstrate that with bipartisan negotiations progress can be made, teeing up the next set of immigration issues that need to be dealt with.

Such a deal is far from perfect, but not doing anything means preserving the bad status quo. This certainly seems to be a case of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. And, it does not need to be the end—advocates on both sides can and will keep fighting for a better deal in the future, as they should. But it might mean a little more hope to build that fight on.

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