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From Protecting Dreamers To Building The Wall: A 4-Point Plan For Immigration Reform

Yesenia Aguilar of Reading, Penn. holds her one year old daughter Denalli Urdaneta at an immigration rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (Andrew Harnik/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Yesenia Aguilar of Reading, Penn. holds her one year old daughter Denalli Urdaneta at an immigration rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

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It appears Congress may temporarily extend, perhaps for a year, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Whatever the time frame of the debate, the legislature and White House should negotiate the immigration reform that’s to be had if both sides could remember that compromise is the sine qua non of governing.

Trump offered a four-point immigration plan on Tuesday night. Here’s a different one for consideration:

First, ignore the anti-immigrant xenophobes, clueless about mass deportation’s financial and humanitarian costs. The New Yorker recently reported on the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who could face violence back home if deported. Sneaking into the country is illegal, but it does not merit the death penalty.

This appeal to humanity is not squishy-lefty religion. High priests in the conservative cathedral — the late Jack Kemp, George W. Bush — have been pro-immigrant.

Sneaking into the country is illegal, but it does not merit the death penalty.

Second, give Trump his wall and end the diversity lottery, in exchange for legalizing the Dreamers. Yes, the wall is a dopey waste of money. But it’s a worthwhile (if high) price for the peace of mind the Dreamers would get from legal status — and for the benefits America derives from their presence.

As for the lottery, the nation will continue to diversify without it. As Michael Doyle a migration scholar at Columbia University said,  “A nation is not Noah’s Ark. Widening world representation should not be an independent criterion for entry.”

Third, while Trump’s limits on family reunification arguably are too severe, he’s on to something when he says an immigrant’s economic potential — not her family tree — should matter more.

Jonathan Tepperman, of Foreign Affairs magazine, writes that family reunification is “... a well-intentioned but extremely irrational approach that, in effect, lets an arbitrary factor — whether or not an applicant’s relatives had the cunning or dumb luck to get into the country before them — shape the nation’s immigration population.” Canada, for one, prioritizes the potential for economic contributions to the country as a condition for citizenship.

With his comment about “shithole countries,” Trump telegraphed his belief that economic migration would rule out comers from places like Africa. But, in fact, African immigrants to the United States are, on average, better educated than native-born Americans.

Making potential contributions the prime criterion would codify a trend that family-based migration has begun. It might enhance that trend: Immigrants to Canada and Australia (which also uses economic criteria) remain better-educated than ours. And Canada has become more multicultural since it enacted this system.

You don’t get your way just because your side is more unreasonable.

Joe Biden

I’ve saved the fourth plank for last, as it will be the toughest to include in a deal. We should enact a path to citizenship for all non-criminal undocumented immigrants, while avoiding savage cuts in future immigration levels.

The path to citizenship — as with the one Trump proposes for the Dreamers — would require a wait of several years. This would honor those who are trying to enter the country legally. The time lag also would allow collecting a penalty for entering the country illegally, plus back taxes and any fines owed by the citizens-in-waiting. This was the proposal Bush supported, to progressive applause, in his failed 2007 immigration plan.

As for future immigration levels, the data makes a persuasive case that immigrants take few American jobs, and that slowly raising the number we admit makes sense, with the option of scaling back if evidence of job loss materialized.

Convincing Trump and like-minded congressional representatives of that reality, and that a general path to citizenship isn’t “amnesty,” however, is a heavy lift, perhaps to the point of a political hernia. Keeping current immigration levels may be the best we can get. Recall, too, that Trump is an unreliable negotiating partner, having flitted from deal to deal on this issue. Not to mention his shamelessly inaccurate demonizing of immigrants in his State of the Union address as criminals, despite research showing most aren't members of the vicious MS-13 gang he damned.

The foregoing proposals offer the anti-immigrant wing of our politics huge concessions. If they can’t make some of their own, they should remember what Joe Biden once told GOP leaders in another context: You don’t get your way just because your side is more unreasonable.

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Rich Barlow Cognoscenti contributor
Rich Barlow writes for BU Today, Boston University's news website.

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