But this requires Democrats in Congress to get started on this issue as well. So what’s that going to look like?
Senate Democrats are planning to move quickly with an initial bill legalizing the “dreamers,” i.e. undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children. A senior Democratic leadership aide tells me that Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who will chair the Judiciary Committee, plans to move a bill within the first 100 days.
This bill would be a version of the Dream Act, which would provide a path to legalization and eventually citizenship for around 2 million dreamers. Many of the dreamers cannot pursue normal life paths in education and/or employment, even though they were brought here through no fault of their own and have largely grown up in the United States.
While some dreamers have executive protection against deportation from a program created by President Barack Obama, that can’t be relied upon and isn’t stable.
That’s why full legalization is needed. Such a bill might also legalize hundreds of thousands of immigrants with temporary protected status, who also have deep roots in the United States and are here lawfully, though that remains to be determined.
The fact that Democrats plan to move quickly on dreamers reflects a bunch of lessons that were learned the hard way, producing a shift in thinking. The key insight is that after years spent trying to do a large comprehensive immigration reform bill, it’s clear this approach has failed.
To be clear, the agenda that Biden plans to pursue is very far reaching and ambitious. As The Post reports, it includes pursuing legalization for the millions and millions of undocumented immigrants already here, an undoing of the past administration’s deep cuts to asylum and refugee flows, and more.
But the paradigm that Democrats were devoted to for so long — in which they tried to assemble a large package of reforms, then win over Republican support for it by offering to spend enormous sums on border enforcement — has largely failed.
Seeking a quick victory on the dreamers is emerging as one answer to this problem among many Democrats and immigrant rights advocates.
The basic thinking is that chasing Republicans with promises of enforcement money to get them to back immigration policies they think their base will hate is largely folly; they rarely seem to be willing to buck the base in the end.
A policy like legalizing the dreamers — and possibly people with TPS as well — could conceivably win Republicans. After all, some GOP senators who just won reelection, such as John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, did so while advocating for this, and others, such as Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma, have also backed the idea.
“If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the failed pursuit of comprehensive reform legislation, it’s that we should not wait and postpone progress where there is already consensus,” Chris Newman, the legal director at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told me.
The idea here is to start right out of the gate on immigration by doing something that would win overwhelming public support. The dreamers are highly sympathetic figures, and, crucially, their plight is well understood by the public. If Democrats passed something like this fast, and Republicans who signed on got public kudos and faced less blowback from the right than they feared, it could clear space for more movement later.
“If the Senate moved very quickly on a bill fully legalizing dreamers and TPS holders, that would not only defang the nativists, it would make space for progress on thornier issues both through executive action and subsequent legislation,” Newman told me.
Of course, right now Democrats would need to win 10 Republican senators to pass such legislation. If legislation on popular items such as this starts getting filibustered routinely by Republicans, it might build a case for doing away with the filibuster.
But Kerri Talbot, deputy director of the Immigration Hub, tells me that 10 Republican senators might be within reach for something like the Dream Act.
“We think four or five already support it, and there are about another eight who take a common-sense approach and would be willing to talk to us,” Talbot tells me, adding that people with TPS and immigrant essential workers should also be considered.
“Biden just won,” Talbot continued. “We want to focus on what’s urgent and can be done now.” And these policies would also have the added benefit of being very popular, which is not a bad way for a new administration to get underway.