For most Americans, the back-and-forth legal battle over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that provided temporary peace of mind for the so-called “Dreamers” might seem like just another political battle in Washington. For the Dreamers, however, it’s much more serious.
A recent ruling by a federal judge that overturned the Obama-era DACA program should be the final straw that motivates Congress to finally get serious about the broader immigration reform that both parties support even though some details inevitably separate them.
Dreamers are the immigrants who were brought into this country illegally by their parents when they were children, but by now most of them have lived in this country for two decades or more. Most are as thoroughly Americanized as many other citizens of their generation. Many of them have gotten college degrees or even served in our military.
Many of them have no memory of the country of their birth, usually Mexico or a nation in Central America, and some don’t even speak their parents’ language well — again, in most cases Spanish. For that reason, the thought of deporting them to their native country just seems unfair.
Even many Republicans in Congress agree. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, as conservative as any Republican in Washington, has been working to legalize the status of Dreamers for year. Many of his GOP colleagues in Washington would support that too in return for better border security and an agreement to deport more illegal border-crossers.
Again, most Democrats have no problems with the broad outlines of that proposal. There is a deal to be made there, if both sides could get past the posturing and bickering — and ignore the edges of their party, which are often unwilling to compromise at all.
President Trump often signaled his support for such an agreement when he was in power, though it never happened. President Biden has often said he wants to lower the temperature in Washington and is open to these sorts of agreements. The tentative agreement on an infrastructure package shows that the two parties can still work together on occasion.
Even though this issue has been kicking around for years, the judge’s ruling brought new urgency to it. The Biden administration has said it will appeal the ruling, and most Dreamers are in no immediate danger of being deported. But the uncertainty that surrounds their status has been greatly increased, and this should serve as an impetus for the deal that both parties keep talking about.
With Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress and the presidency, the ball is in their court on this issue. Republicans could be persuaded to legalize the status for Dreamers, but they would want more action on illegal crossings.
As one moderate Democrat put it, “I don’t want to beat up on the administration, but we have to make decisions that are not easy and soft,” said Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, whose district includes the Rio Grande Valley, the area with the most illegal crossings. “We need to be humane and treat people with dignity, but we have to have orderly process on the southern border.”
He’s right, and it’s time for both parties to move to the center on this issue after promising to do that for so many years. The Dreamers have been dreaming about a resolution of this issue for years, and the federal judge’s ruling should be the factor that makes it happen in 2021.