IT’S COMMENDABLE but hardly earth-shattering news that congressional Democrats are once again trying to enact legislation that would secure a permanent place in this country for “dreamers,” the undocumented immigrants largely brought to the United States as children. As written, their bill is compassionate, rational, backed by a clear majority of Americans — and dead on arrival when and if it passes the House of Representatives and lands in the Republican-controlled Senate.
As things stand, its value as an act of political theater is modest. Yet its potential as a vehicle of bipartisan compromise is real, if lawmakers of both parties have the nerve to seize the moment.
Everyone in Congress wants something on immigration, in addition to its use as a political cudgel with which to batter the other side. Democrats want a path to legalization or citizenship for as many of the 2 million or so potentially eligible dreamers as they can possibly get, plus protections for refugees, asylum seekers, and individuals from strife- and disaster-torn nations who were granted U.S. work permits years ago as recipients of temporary protected status (TPS). Republicans also have an immigration wish list, topped by beefed-up border security measures, including some portions of the wall President Trump wants to build.
The Democratic House bill, known as the American Dream and Promise Act, would protect some 2.1 million dreamers and roughly 460,000 current TPS recipients. As written, it contains no elements of the Republican immigration agenda — but it could, if lawmakers were genuinely interested in pursuing a compromise that would advance both parties’ agendas.
The president himself, who has flirted with the idea of extending protections for the dreamers in return for border-wall funding, could also seize on the bill. He’s a master dealmaker? All right, Mr. Trump, then how about a deal that features the protections the Democrats want, the border security you want — plus billions of dollars in new funding that the administration is seeking to deal with the surge of Central American asylum seekers at the border? That money would go for humanitarian relief as well as expanded facilities to process and detain migrants apprehended when they cross the border illegally. Given that, on current trends, as many as 1 million of them may be picked up by Border Patrol agents in the current fiscal year — the highest number since 2006 — some of the emergency funding requested by the administration is justified to address what has become a bona fide crisis. And politically, Democrats could do worse than to show they care about border integrity as well as humane treatment of migrants.
There is no immigration deal that will leave everyone on Capitol Hill happy. Teeth-gnashing on both sides of the aisle will be a precondition for major progress. But the alternative is permanent impasse on an issue that is rending the national fabric. Mr. Trump and congressional Democrats have a choice: take some steps toward a solution, or continue to sow division and discord. There’s no question where the national interest lies.