EDITORIAL: Pass DACA fix

2018-01-11 | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Jan. 10--Trying to decipher President Trump's positions at Tuesday's White House meeting on immigration probably requires the best neuroscientists in the Texas Medical Center as well as an interpreter. We'd like to think there was affirmative progress for those interested in fair reform.

The president met with congressional leaders ahead of a Jan. 19 deadline for a budget deal to prevent a partial government shutdown. Perhaps the key issue in the budget negotiations is the status of more than 700,000 young adults who have been protected from deportation by President Obama's executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

President Trump has repealed the executive order but has also urged Congress to pass legislation to normalize the status of the so-called "Dreamers," which includes more than 120,000 Texans. Democrats, whose votes will be needed in the Senate to pass a bill to keep the government open, have said a DACA solution must be part of the government funding bill.

Trump seemed open to the idea at Tuesday's meeting, but he seemed open to a lot of ideas, many of them contradictory. He said he'd back a "clean bill" that addressed only DACA, but later said any bill must include funding for his foolish border wall fantasy.

Then he said he'd sign whatever Congress sent him. "I'm not saying I want this or I want that. I will sign it," he told the lawmakers.

That's not leadership, but it's typical for Trump, who doesn't specialize in details.

Congress must do two things in the coming days. It must agree on a budget resolution to prevent a government shutdown. And it must pass a bill that grants permanent deportation protection to DACA recipients.

Protecting young adults who were brought to this country illegally as children is a moral and economic imperative. The United States is essentially the only home many of them have ever known, and kicking them out of the country would be profoundly un-American.

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes on Wednesday said DACA-eligible young adults are a key talent pool for the state and nation. He said Texas has about 24,000 DACA-eligible students enrolled in higher education. Texas taxpayers have invested millions in the education of Dreamers.

"I think we need to find a solution, an equitable solution," Paredes said in a call with reporters, later adding that without one, "we're going to lose a lot of important and very productive workers."

Democrats will have to make some concessions on increased border security, despite the insistence of some leaders that DACA be the only immigration topic in the funding bill.

"With all due respect to my Democratic friends, it's not going to happen," Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat who attended Tuesday's meeting, told NPR. "We've got to have DACA and some sensible border security."

But as Cuellar pointed out, border security doesn't mean a wall stretching from Brownsville to San Diego. Congress can approve funding for additional technology and staffing that can more effectively enhance security than prehistoric techniques like a wall.

Beyond the immediate issue of DACA and the government shutdown, Trump on Tuesday also expressed willingness to explore "comprehensive immigration reform." That's a phrase that's anathema to many in Trump's base, and it's not really clear what he means by it.

A 2013 bill that passed the Senate but died without a vote in the House remains a good blueprint for immigration reform. Truly comprehensive reform would create pathways for many of those here illegally to normalize their status, fund effective border control measures, add additional immigration judges to process claims, and create a legal immigration system that matches the 21st century needs of the United States.

Trump on Tuesday said he would "take the heat" if Congress wanted to take up immigration reform. That's an admirable statement, but the president has never shown willingness to stand up to the hard-core elements of the Republican base who rebel at anything they classify as "amnesty."

A sincere immigration debate that leads to fixes for an antiquated and broken system would be a welcome development. Sadly, there's nothing in recent history that suggests such a debate is possible in the current political climate.

However, a permanent DACA fix does seem possible, especially given the Democrats' leverage on the government funding bill. Congress must act on this rare chance to take important action on immigration. Perhaps that can be a springboard to further reforms.