The immigration bills in Congress aren’t perfect. That’s okay.

The immigration bills in Congress aren’t perfect. That’s okay.

Originally published by The Washington Post

BY TRYING to solve every problem related to America’s immigration system, Congress has repeatedly failed to solve any of them. It’s time to end that legislative dysfunction, which has played on a loop on Capitol Hill for years. Why not sidestep the most incendiary disagreements and target the two main areas on which there is broad bipartisan acceptance: protecting “dreamers” brought to the United States as children and beefing up border security?

The contours of such a deal, if not the details, are within lawmakers’ reach. Similar bipartisan bills to that end now have been introduced in both houses of Congress — this month, by John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) in the Senate and, last month, by Will Hurd (R-Tex.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) in the House. Each deserves a hearing and a vote.

Congress is duty-bound to act not only because immigration has all but paralyzed Washington politics, entangled as it is with spending to keep the government running, but also because President Trump’s own approach is a nonstarter.

Mr. Trump campaigned on building a border wall to enhance national security — fine, let him have his mandate. But the deal he has proposed and is insisting on goes much further than that. Yes, he has offered a path to citizenship for 1.8 million dreamers, but Democrats are highly unlikely to support his quid pro quos, which would not only crack down on illegal immigrants but also slash legal immigration to levels unseen in decades — a policy goal that was never part of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric as a candidate.

The McCain-Coons legislation, like its counterpart in the House, tackles a problem that the president himself has said he wants to resolve: providing long-term security for dreamers, whose status and work permits under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals were ordered revoked last fall by Mr. Trump and remain in limbo in the courts. The Senate bill would shield from deportation young immigrants who have lived in the United States since the end of 2013 — a somewhat bigger cohort than the one Mr. Trump would protect. That difference should be negotiable.

On border security, the senators don’t go as far as Mr. Trump would like — he wants $25 billion right off the bat to build his “beautiful” wall — but they would direct Homeland Security officials to formulate a plan that would achieve “operational control” of the border by 2020. That’s a term of art, though not a precise one, meaning much tighter security than currently exists along most of the border. It does not preclude building hundreds of miles of walls and barriers on the frontier with Mexico, if that is in line with recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security.

The House version of the bill has 52 co-sponsors in addition to Mr. Hurd and Mr. Aguilar, 26 from each side of the aisle. In the Senate, both Mr. McCain, who has long pressed for an immigration deal, and Mr. Coons are known for a willingness to reach across the aisle even as they remain true to core convictions. This bill offers a large majority the opportunity to do the same. A broader deal is not within Congress’s ability for the foreseeable future. This one is.

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