Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, is a member of the U.S. Senate.
Having spent the better part of two decades trying to tackle the challenges we face as a country, I sometimes feel a little defensive when I hear someone say Congress is incapable of solving big problems.
But that’s a hard point to argue after watching the Senate squander its best opportunity to pass legislation both to protect young immigrants affected by the uncertain future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and to strengthen security along the border.
Somehow, despite sweeping public support for both these items, we could not find a compromise that 60 senators could agree with. To say it was a disappointment would be an understatement.
I do appreciate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempt to facilitate an open debate to deliver an effective piece of bipartisan legislation. Senators on both sides of the aisle made a concerted effort to forge consensus. Unfortunately, the siren call of politics brought too many of us back into partisan trenches and blocked any hope of real results.
But there are teachers, students and members of the military who are DACA recipients. They are friends and colleagues who represent the very best of America — hard workers and productive members of their families and communities — and they do not have the luxury of accepting defeat and moving on to the next agenda item.
Likewise, those of us from border states know that law enforcement officers tasked with patrolling the border and protecting our neighborhoods cannot just give up and go home.
But if I’m being candid, after what we’ve experienced over these past weeks, I can’t see this Congress agreeing with this president on a package that includes a path to citizenship for DACA participants coupled with significant changes to our legal immigration structure. That comprehensive immigration reform has proved to be beyond our grasp.
That is why, when the Senate reconvenes next week, the first action I will take will be to introduce a bill extending DACA protections for three years and providing $7.6 billion to fully fund the first three years of the administration’s border-security proposal. I’ll be the first to admit this “three for three” approach is far from a perfect solution, but it would provide a temporary fix by beginning the process of improving border security and ensuring DACA recipients will not face potential deportation.
Congress has become entirely too comfortable ignoring problems when they seem too difficult to solve. This issue is not something we can ignore.
In the days following the introduction of this DACA extension, I’ll be on the floor to offer a unanimous-consent request for an up-or-down vote. I can’t promise that one of my colleagues won’t object — effectively blocking such a vote — but I promise that I’ll be back on the floor, again and again, motioning for a vote until the Senate passes a bill providing relief to those struggling.
We may not have been able to deliver a permanent solution to these problems, but we cannot abdicate the responsibility of Congress to solve them. There are too many people with too much at stake.