“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” – “The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus, at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Christmas has passed and a new year is beginning, which means that nearly 800,000 young people have spent the holidays not knowing if they’re subject to being deported in a few months. Meanwhile, almost a year after President Trump took office, little progress has been made on his promised wall.
The Founding Fathers created a Constitution that depends on compromise and common sense to address problems imperfectly but nondictatorially. Lately it hasn’t worked very well, but these two immigration issues should be fairly doable.
Who you gonna blame? Not the kids
The 800,000 young people were brought to America illegally as children by their parents through a porous border the federal government failed to enforce. Employers happily hired those parents at rock-bottom wages. Consumers happily paid less for goods and services as a result.
You can blame the parents, the government, the employers, or the consumers. But you cannot blame the young people. They had little choice in coming here. Justice would not be served by sending them back to a “home” many barely remember. American taxpayers have already paid to educate them, so giving that investment back to Mexico or wherever makes little sense. An aging population like America’s needs young people to fill its workforce and pay for Social Security and Medicare.
The young people have lived in legal limbo most of their lives, until President Obama ordered that they would not be deported through his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. That was better than nothing, but it still was a temporary, constitutionally suspect fix. On September 5, Trump rescinded DACA and gave Congress six months – until March 5 – to offer a legislative fix. That clock is ticking.
At the same time, most Americans would agree that government’s most basic functions include protecting the nation’s borders and creating an orderly immigration process. The United States can admit only so many newcomers and visitors at one time, and they need to enrich this society, not threaten it. Emma Lazarus’ famed poem invites the wretched refuse to its golden door. Doors are a means of controlled entry.
Address both DACA and the border
This is a case where two problems can be addressed at once. In the next two months, Congress should pass a legislative package that gives the young people legal status with a path to citizenship. At the same time, it should improve border and immigration enforcement in a way that does not increase the national debt. Otherwise, the legislation would encourage more parents to sneak their children across the border in hopes they too someday will be legal.
Preferably, that enhanced security will come through means other than bricks and mortar. In this day and age, a virtual wall enforced by drones and other technology can accomplish as much as a physical one without scarring the landscape and insulting our neighbors. A wall already exists along 700 miles of the 2,000-mile border, and physical barriers simply aren’t a necessary tool along some of the other miles. Even Trump’s own homeland security secretary said so during her confirmation hearing.
What we don’t want is for March 5 to arrive without a solution, and then either the young people have no legal status, or Trump sticks a Band-Aid on the problem with some kind of extension.
Nothing is easy in a country with 300 million people. But if our democracy still works, then it can address both the upcoming DACA deadline and the need for better immigration enforcement. America ought to have a golden door, and it ought to remain wide open.
By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.