Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, was speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999. Donald E. Graham is chairman of Graham Holdings and co-founder of the scholarship fund TheDream.us.
Rather than shut down the government, why don’t the president and Congress agree to appropriate the $5 billion he wants to build the border wall and provide legal status and a path to citizenship to the “dreamers”?
Earlier this year, President Trump proposed an immigration bill. Among many other proposals, it would have given a path to citizenship to up to 1.7 million young people who:
1. Came to the United States as children brought by their parents before 2007.
2. Have been educated in this country and are high-school graduates or in U.S. schools.
3. Have never been convicted of a felony or a significant misdemeanor.
In most polls, some 85 percent of Americans say they believe these dreamers should be allowed to remain, to study and to work. Voters don’t like to reward people for coming here illegally, but the dreamers were brought here at an average age of 6. We don’t punish people in this country for their actions as 6-year-olds. Voters don’t like to do favors for immigrants who come here and then are convicted of crimes; the dreamers haven’t done so.
One of us thinks the $5 billion the president wants for the wall will be money well spent; the other . . . isn’t so sure. But what we propose for the dreamers would not cost the U.S. government anything. It would not make them eligible for any but trivial federal benefits (the “path to citizenship” referred to normally takes about 10 years) more than offset by taxes as they work.
Giving the dreamers this opportunity would certainly be good for them; it would also be great for the country. Over many years, the dreamer students we know have demonstrated motivation far beyond the norm. A scholarship program one of us co-founded has 3,400 students in college. Their retention rates and average GPAs are well above those of their classmates. At Trinity Washington University’s graduation in May, dreamers made up 6 of the 11 Phi Beta Kappas graduating — and there were only 20 dreamers in the class.
The bipartisan Dream Act was first introduced in Congress in 2001, by Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). Over and over, Congress has come agonizingly close to passing it. The House Republican leadership was prepared to bring a bill to the floor to give status to the dreamers (among other things) in 2013; it was abandoned when Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) lost his primary and his stance on immigration was blamed.
It has never been the right time to give help to the dreamers, despite overwhelming public support for doing so.
Let’s do it now. Whether you support money to build the wall or regard it as a waste, everyone knows it is of central importance to the president, and he is proving he is prepared to fight for it. Why shouldn’t Congress take advantage of the best opportunity in years to give the dreamers the open door they deserve?
In a day or two we can have greater border security and a more humane future for young people.
All it takes is bipartisan leadership.
It is the right time.