When It Comes to Immigration Failures, There’s Plenty of Blame to Go Around
When President Donald J. Trump announced his intentions regarding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Executive Order issued by Barack Obama to address undocumented residents in the United States, he was met by condemnation from the left, the center, and even the right.
Justifiably so. Immigration policy has been a terribly important issue that American politics has failed to adequately address. But it is a failure that does not rest solely with the Republican Party. There is plenty of blame, both red and blue, to go around.
Early during the Obama presidency, the U.S. House of Representatives, then under Democratic control, passed the DREAM Act of 2010, to legislatively address the issue. The DREAM Act then failed to pass a Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate because five moderate Senate Democrats voted against the bill. Of those five dissents, only one — Sen. Jon Tester of Montana — remains in the U.S. Senate. Two were defeated for reelection and two subsequently retired.
One can look back even further than that, though. In 2007, then-President George W. Bush worked closely with Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts to craft a bipartisan immigration bill that would address the 12 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be in the country at the time. That legislation failed because 15 Senate Democrats, along with Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, voted against the bill. At the time, Democratic “savior” Bernie Sanders sided with current Trump Attorney General and then-Senator from Alabama Jeff Sessions to refuse to act on immigration.
Why? Sanders and his Democratic colleagues were following the wishes of the AFL-CIO, the umbrella organization for organized labor in the United States. The AFL-CIO opposed Senator Kennedy’s immigration legislation because they feared an increased pool of legal labor would depress wages for those born in the United States, those who were card-carrying members of the AFL-CIO’s member unions. Ironically, Trump has made a similar argument in seeking to eliminate DACA.
This walk through the legislative history books is not intended to throw stones at the Democrats nor to provide political cover for the Republicans. Instead, it is to remind us of two very important lessons. In the micro, executive orders should be a path of last resort for our government. And in the macro, there are some issues that are both incredibly difficult to address, thus requiring a nonpartisan approach to them.
Throughout the Obama Administration, particularly in the waning years, many would cheer when Obama would take executive action to address one issue or another. Now, as we experience the first year of the Trump Administration, we are aghast that Trump would strike those actions from the books.
And that’s the rub. ObamaCare has demonstrated how difficult it is repeal a law, even when one controls the presidency and the Congress. Executive Action is easy to take, and just as easy to rescind. It has no lasting power. It is stop gap.
For decades, the U.S. government has failed to act, at least in a strong manner, with regard to the undocumented. 1990, there were 3.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2007, that number hit the high of 12.2 million. Current Pew estimates put that number now at 11.3 million.
Most estimate the DREAMers, those impacted by DACA, at close to 800,000, the vast majority of which are still children (those under 18). Many are adults in college. Some are estimating there are now thousands of DREAMers currently teaching in high-need schools across the United States, largely in the communities that welcomed them to the United States in the first place. These are all individuals who are every bit a part of the American dream as those whose forefathers arrived at Ellis Island, as those who sought out a better life in our large cities and small towns.
With the President now punting the issue to Congress, there are two steps that can, should, and must be taken.
First, the DACA program needs to be legislatively implemented. The protections offered under the original Executive Action should be made a law of the land.
Second, Congress needs to dust off the Bush/Kennedy immigration bill and commit to moving it forward. Yes, it will face adjustments and amendments. But it is the closest thing available to true, bipartisan immigration reform. And if we can’t have a nonpartisan approach, bipartisan is the best we can do.
Through it all, we must remember that this is not a red problem or a blue problem, but rather an American problem. We have failed to enact immigration reform because labor unions were opposed to it and because America Firsters were opposed to it. We’ve failed to act because Latinos were first seen as a red voting block and are now seen moreso as a blue one. We’ve failed to act because the most powerful special interests, on both sides, were more interested in protecting what they had in the now, rather than looking ahead to the soon will be. And we’ve failed to act because acting is hard work and requires collaboration, two things our modern federal government seems to detest.
Whether we like it or not, President Trump is now forcing us to learn from our failures. Congress can act and take real steps to addressing immigration, or it can cede its authority and let Trump issue new Executive Actions on the issue. At this point, which is better for our country, and for the millions and millions of those it immediately impacts?