Editor’s Note: Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, is host of the “Only in America” podcast and author of “There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Despite a contentious few weeks, the budget impasse – which has not reflected positively on the new era of divided government – provides a rare opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to come together. That’s because Americans still overwhelmingly believe immigration to the United States is a good thing.
And contrary to conventional wisdom, there’s actually a bipartisan deal within reach – something like the Dreamers-for-border-security proposal that failed narrowly in the Senate last February, when eight Republicans joined 46 Democrats, but fell short of the 60-vote threshold to proceed to final passage. An updated version should pair smart border security with solutions for the more than 1 million immigrants protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs who could soon lose their legal status.
Fortunately, Senate Republicans are looking to end the impasse. Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine, both up for re-election in 2020, said they would support funding to re-open the government without wall funding. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has floated a compromise, and Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee went so far as to suggest “small,” “bigger” and “really big” proposals in a Washington Post op-ed.
Democrats should partner with Republicans on a deal that is limited to three major components.
First, it should augment the more than 600 miles of physical barriers (or a “wall”) we already have on the southern border with better infrastructure, new and advanced technology and more personnel at ports of entry. The latter would slow the movement of illegal drugs, 80% of which go through our ports. Smarter border security would also prime the economy by enabling more efficient cross-border commerce, which currently is slowed because of a shortage of personnel to process trade.
Second, it should end once and for all the uncertainty around the DACA program – a limited version of which lives on, for now, because of court rulings that have blocked the administration’s attempt to end it. The nearly 800,000 young people with DACA status earn degrees, work and contribute to the American story. A solution for them is the right thing to do, and a DACA deal could help the President start to win back some of the suburban voters who handed control of the House to Democrats in November.
Third, approximately 300,000 people from countries including El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti, who have lived and worked legally in the United States for decades thanks to TPS, face the very real possibility of deportation in 2019 because the Trump administration plans to allow most protections to expire. Instead of kicking out families whose countries of birth continue to face or recover from conflict, environmental disaster and other challenging conditions, we should cement their contributions to our country by putting them on a path to legal status and eventual citizenship.
Striking a deal on immigration would appeal to most Americans in suburban and exurban communities who are in the middle – who know that we can and must balance security and compassion.
My organization, the National Immigration Forum, has held dozens of “Living Room Conversations” in these kinds of communities to discuss immigration. In places such as Tulsa, Oklahoma; Marietta, Georgia; and Storm Lake, Iowa, we found that people are anxious about what they perceive as America’s changing identity when it comes to culture, security and our economy.
But after acknowledging fears and talking through their concerns, it became clear to us that people want a functioning legal immigration system, smarter security at ports of entry and along the border, and the opportunity for undocumented men and women who are already in the country and contributing to attain citizenship.
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Most Americans are tired of tribalism and policy proposals that play to small but vocal bases on each side of the political spectrum. Political intransigence makes for great television, but it makes for a dysfunctional nation as well.
As the shutdown continues, people’s anger will only grow. If this type of congressional compromise takes shape but the President demands additional changes, voters will hold the White House responsible.
The seeds of a solution are planted. Mr. President, it’s time to make a deal.