Immigration is a complicated social and political issue. The far left and far right have very different points of view. But despite those differences, the outline of a new, principled, workable, limited, bipartisan package that would serve everyone’s interests has begun to emerge with the support of No Labels. And here’s the kicker: The deal would be popular on the left and the right.
Here’s how it would work. Congress would provide legal status for the “Dreamers,” the undocumented students and adults who were brought to the United States when they were children. At the same time, Washington would devote more resources to strengthening security at the border. This prospective Dreamers and border security package would serve policy goals on the left and right. It would be good for the country and help grow the economy. Moreover, the package would offer Democrats and Republicans the opportunity of working together on a significant issue which could become the catalyst for a lasting bipartisan relationship.
Consider the two elements of the package separately. Each day without action represents another day of uncertainty for the 800,000 Dreamers and their families. Each year, 65,000 dreamers graduate high school. Ten thousand graduate college. Among them are valedictorians, entrepreneurs, soldiers and marines, friends and neighbors. They contribute much to our economy. Maybe more important, for many, the U.S. is the only country they have ever known.
That’s why Congress should allow these Dreamers to live, work and learn in the U.S.—without fear of deportation. It’s the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do: The left-leaning Center for American Progress says keeping dreamers here could add as much as $400 billion to our economy over the next decade. And the right-leaning Cato Institute has established that deporting the Dreamers would cost the federal government roughly $60 billion.
Enhanced border security should also be a no brainer for members of Congress. Say what you will about how the federal government establishes better control of who comes in and out of the American homeland—the details matter—no one should dispute the basic principle that a country has the right and responsibility to determine who gains entry. Today, several emerging technologies could enable the U.S. to police our border both more effectively and more efficiently.
In short, both elements of a Dreamers and border security deal make principled sense. This is good policy. But it’s also good politics. And more importantly good for America.
According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News survey, 86 percent of Americans believe the Dreamers should be allowed to stay in the U.S. if they have completed high school, served in the military and stayed out of any major criminal trouble. And 65 percent of Americans support legislation that would pair a reprieve for Dreamers with increased border security funding.
Taken together, what’s clear is that this is not an intractable problem. The twin challenges posed by the Dreamers and the border are not impossible to clear. And no one needs to worry that doing the right thing will prove unpopular. In the political world, this prospective immigration fix represents what may be the lowest of low-hanging fruit. But will Congress seize it?
America’s frustration with Washington—the general public’s flagging faith in government itself—is driven largely by the electorate’s belief that politicians can’t get out of their own way. Too often, our nation’s leaders appear more interested in fighting than fixing. And that attitude has proven extremely unpopular: A recent Gallup poll found that the percentage of Americans who think it’s important for the nation’s leaders to compromise in the name of progress has reached a record high.
This prospective bipartisan approach to the Dreamers and border security represents a rare opportunity for leaders on both sides of the aisle to prove that they hear what the American people are saying. Democrats and Republicans both have little to lose by embracing this immigration fix—and everything to gain. In this instance, Washington can offer up no legitimate excuses. Members of Congress should roll up their sleeves, join hands, and get this deal done.
Al Cardenas and Mack McLarty are vice chairs of No Labels, a national group of Democrats, Republicans and independents working collaboratively to solve the nation’s problems. Cardenas was elected chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU) after more than 30 years as a leader in the conservative movement. McLarty was White House chief of staff and special envoy for the Americas under President Clinton.