A lame-duck session of Congress isn’t a time for creativity and new initiatives. But there is a simple bill that could pass both chambers, be signed by this president and help some deserving people throughout the United States.
The Republicans control Congress for a few more weeks. And, as President Donald Trump keeps saying, he would like money appropriated to build his wall along the southern border with Mexico. He surely won’t get that money any time in the next Congress, with a Democrat-controlled House.
Earlier this year, the president offered to give a chance for legal status not only to nearly 700,000 “dreamers” — those undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children — through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program but to a million others who were either too young to apply or chose not to. (I presume that, to get legal status or a path to citizenship, all 1.7 million would have to show, as DACA recipients do, that they have never been convicted of a felony or a serious misdemeanor.)
Why not pass a simple bill: an appropriation for the wall, alongside an eventual path to citizenship for DACA recipients and long-term legal status for the rest?
This would give each party something it badly wants. To Democrats who do not want to give Trump a victory by appropriating money for the wall, I would say: Have mercy on the dreamers and do it.
To Republicans who say this constitutes “amnesty,” and will set off another wave of migration, I would say: Really? The newest dreamers have been in the United States for more than 11 years. Migrants will come here with the hope that, if they wait that long, Congress will finally give them a chance at an education or a career?
To those who say “The wall is a waste of money,” I would say: In taxes and other contributions to our country, the dreamers will pay much of that money back. I know enough of these young people to believe that their potential is great. And DACA brings them no benefits: no Pell Grants, not even access to federal loans. Codifying DACA costs the government nothing, and the country will collect a lot in future tax payments.
If Congress does not act, can dreamers rely on the federal courts to keep DACA available to them? Absolutely not. But don’t listen to me. In his decision earlier this year to issue an injunction to keep DACA in place, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis wrote that the government “indisputably can end the DACA program,” but he also said the United States had failed to offer legally valid reasons for the termination. This is not a high hurdle. Even if the Supreme Court ultimately upholds Garaufis’ decision, DACA will not be in place much longer.
While the debate has gone on, the dreamers have quietly gone about their work. Many would love a chance at college. I work at the scholarship program TheDream.us, which is helping 3,400 scholars working toward graduation. Their success rate is outstanding. Those I know seem to have extraordinary levels of motivation.
If DACA is abolished, not one of those students will be able to work legally for an employer in the United States. DACA recipients who are teachers, of which there are many, will have to be fired. So will hundreds of nurses.
Jin Park, a Harvard senior from South Korea, just won a Rhodes scholarship and wants to do advanced work in molecular biology, aimed at helping cure diseases. If DACA is abolished, he will return from his studies at Oxford unable to work for any U.S. university or research firm.
More than 85 percent of Americans support allowing dreamers to stay, study and work. Trump has spoken up for the dreamers in the past — and he wants his wall.
Do it, Congress. Do it now.
Donald E. Graham is chairman of Graham Holdings and co-founder of the scholarship fund TheDream.us.