For months, lawmakers in Washington have been working on legislation to provide permanent legal relief to the Dreamers — young people brought to the United States through no fault of their own. This is an issue that has been debated for many years — but which lawmakers have been unwilling or unable to address.
The Dreamers are students, workers, and men and women in our armed services, and our nation will be strengthened by allowing them to remain legally. But after all this discussion and negotiation, some in Congress are ready to give up, instead of coming together on a durable reform. That would be a serious mistake.
The American people strongly believe that the Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the United States legally. In fact, 92 percent said in a recent poll that it is important to pass this relief. Without the certainty that comes with a legal remedy signed into law, families of Dreamers will continue to have no confidence to plan for the future. And the people who depend on them — their children, their students, their customers, their employers, their parishioners — all face an uncertain future as well.
At this point, many policy options have been put forward in Washington: for border security, visa reforms, addressing the legal status of Dreamers and more. It is time for lawmakers to come together on a balanced bill that provides permanent relief to the Dreamers and enhances border security. A temporary fix or one-year reprieve should not be the option they choose. Such an approach would fail to deliver either certainty or security, and would leave the Dreamer community continuing to wonder about their futures.
When we consider the major legislative achievements of recent decades, we see that none were easy. The Reagan tax cuts. The NAFTA implementation act. The welfare reform act. The balanced budget act. What do these laws have in common? All of these major pieces of legislation are remembered many years after they became law, and none of them came easily. But instead of throwing in the towel when a final agreement seemed impossible, leaders saw that the goals were too important to just give up. That is how big legislative accomplishments happen. It’s how policymakers delivers on major promises.
We seem to have arrived at that sort of challenging moment when it comes to the issue of the Dreamers.
The last few weeks have seen a lengthy back-and-forth between and among leaders in Congress and the White House. Meetings have been held. Open letters have been posted. Competing proposals have been advanced, attacked, revised, re-introduced and attacked again. It seems that every possible immigration change under the sun has been put forward, and there is no consensus. Last week, the White House put forward the outline of a plan, which was immediately attacked, and now the debate seems to be going nowhere.
This is not the time for lawmakers to back away. It is the time for constructive engagement aimed at identifying the areas of disagreement and agreeing on resolutions.
The president has put forward a proposal that would give permanent relief to 1.8 million Dreamers — going far further than President Obama, or any other leading voice in this debate. He has also indicated that he is committed to ending the visa lottery and curbing extended family migration, and his plan would accomplish this — but could dramatically reduce legal immigration in the future, if a provision to avoid this scenario were not to be included in the final piece of legislation.
This proposal has been widely criticized, largely out of fear that it underestimates the value of the support net that family immigration brings, and out of concern it will hurt our economy by denying access to needed workers.
Changes to our rules on family migration may be appropriate — but they should not be rushed into without review and debate. Our Constitution recognizes a God-given right to the pursuit of happiness — and for all of us, that pursuit is inherently tied to our love for our families. That love has led millions to come here to build better lives — and they did not need government to tell them what skills they brought, or where and how to use them. These immigrants came here — with their families — and they brought with them an entrepreneurial spirit. They found or created jobs, built stronger communities — in support of their families. We should not reject this part of our legacy so hastily.
But instead of simply rejecting this proposal, Democrats in Congress and other critics should come up with an alternative — one that responds to concerns about the visa lottery and family migration while keeping legal immigration levels steady. If lawmakers do nothing more than say “no,” it is far less likely that permanent protection for the Dreamers will be signed into law.
For Congress and the president to come together to get things done, both sides must be willing to move. Without that movement, Dreamers will lack the certainty they need to plan their futures. Without that movement, our nation will make no progress toward a more secure border.
So, while the prospect of continuing to work to find common ground may seem daunting, it is now more important than ever.