WE CAN recite many reasons Democrats should spurn President Trump’s Saturday afternoon offer to end the government shutdown. He should not be rewarded for having taken the government hostage. Any piece of a wall would reinforce his hateful, anti-immigrant rhetoric. He’s unreliable, having made and withdrawn similar offers in the past. This one isn’t good enough; “dreamers” need a path to citizenship, not merely a three-year reprieve.
Those are serious objections. But here is something serious on the other side of the equation: Real people. Real people, with real lives that depend utterly on what Congress and the president do now.
These are the dreamers, hundreds of thousands of young people who have played by the rules, studied, worked, made lives in this country. They are American in every way but in the eyes of the law, having been brought here as children — as first-graders, on average. Thanks to a dispensation from President Barack Obama, many of them have come out of the legal shadows and are contributing to this country. If no deal is reached, the Supreme Court is likely at some point to end that dispensation, as Mr. Trump has demanded, and they will be sent back into the shadows, or to countries of which they have no memory.
These are, as well, the hundreds of thousands of Haitians and Central Americans who were allowed to stay here after natural disasters in their countries. They, too, have made lives here, legally, in many cases having children who are U.S. citizens. Mr. Trump has ordered an end to their “temporary protected status.” After all these years, that would be cruel. It would also be foolish, as these U.S. residents help support, with remittances, countries that would only send more illegal immigration to the United States if their economies took another blow.
This is a merciful nation, committed to the idea of a statute of limitations: For all but the most serious crimes, prosecutors will not go after you if enough time has passed. Why, then, would we consider a patriotic, hard-working 25-year-old an unforgivable criminal for having been brought across the border by her parents when she was 5?
Mr. Trump’s offer should be welcomed but not accepted as the final word. There should be room to talk about the amount of money; how border security will be defined and enhanced; which categories of dreamers and TPS beneficiaries are covered; what their legal status will be, and for how long. But to refuse even to talk until the government reopens does no favors to sidelined federal workers and contractors.
Unquestionably a deal would contain galling elements for both sides; that’s the nature of compromise. But a measure of statesmanship for a member of Congress now is the ability to accept some disappointments, and shrug off the inevitable attacks from purists, if it means rescuing the lives of thousands of deserving people living among us.