The clock is ticking for Congress to pass legislation to legalize some 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
A boost to get it done came from President Donald Trump on Tuesday. Of all people.
“You folks are going to have to come up with a solution,” the president told 25 lawmakers at the White House. “And if you do, I will sign that solution.”
There is urgency for lawmakers to pass legislation. The Trump administration has been winding down the program that since 2012 has allowed immigrants known as Dreamers to work and travel without fear of deportation. In March, permits issued under the program will begin to expire. By then, Republicans and Democrats must bring forth a bill to legalize and eventually offer a path to citizenship to these younger immigrants.
The biggest surprise Tuesday was that Trump looked beyond the plight of Dreamers and suggested he wants lawmakers to pursue comprehensive immigration reform.
“If you want to take it that further step, I’ll take the heat,” Trump told Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham during the televised meeting. “You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform.”
It is the most welcomed statement we’ve heard from Trump in a long time. And — no joke — we sense that he is sincere. This isn’t the first time during his presidency that Trump has expressed support for comprehensive immigration reform that would lead to the legalization of some 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
We also know Trump is not to be trusted. All it might take is a phone call from conservative commentator Ann Coulter or a conversation with Stephen Miller, a White House adviser with creepy nationalist views, to not only steer Trump away from immigration reform, but to get him to double down on the anti-immigrant cruelty that plays well with hard-line conservatives.
While the president’s words about large-scale reform were encouraging, legalizing Dreamers must come first for compassionate and practical reasons. Many of these younger immigrants have launched professional careers in recent years. They are teachers, doctors and computer engineers. It makes no sense to disrupt the communities where they live and the people they serve.
It’s also hard to imagine Trump coming through on comprehensive immigration reform in the long run given his zeal in other ways to drive immigrants out of the country. The latest move came Monday, when his administration announced it would send back 200,000 people to El Salvador by ending a program that gave them “temporary protected status” in the U.S. after an earthquake in 2001. Last year, the administration announced 60,000 Haitians had to leave after coming to the U.S. legally in 2010 after an earthquake.
Many of the Salvadorans have been here at least 15 years. In that time, they’ve raised American-born children. Gang violence now runs rampant in their country and throughout Central America. To send them back would be to destroy their lives.
If the Trump administration wants to make drastic changes to this refugee program, it should apply the changes only to new arrivals. Don’t send people back to poverty in Haiti or to El Salvador for a death sentence. We are, as a nation, better than that.
When it comes to Dreamers, Trump has expressed sympathy for their predicament. He has said he would treat them with “heart.” Still, a bill to give them permanent relief from deportation is far from a done deal. Republicans likely will want something extreme in exchange for legalizing Dreamers. GOP lawmakers want to help Trump fulfill his promise to build a border wall even though it makes much more sense to devote additional funding to personnel, vehicles, drones and other technological tools at the border.
Republicans also want to change the U.S. policy that allows immigrants living in the U.S. legally to bring over family members, which is sometimes called chain migration. But that’s a policy that goes back decades. It deserves a full airing of the pros and cons as part of the larger debate on comprehensive immigration reform.
But the first step, if Trump is serious, is to tell the Dreamers they’ve got a home — for good.
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