Immigration is one of the most divisive issues facing our nation, but it shouldn’t be. Saying that we are a nation of immigrants is cliché. The greatest nation in the history of civilization is made up of and was built by immigrants.
In full disclosure, I am an immigrant. So was President Trump’s mother. His wife is too. So are millions of other Americans, many of whom you’d never know came from other lands unless they told you.
Today, more than a quarter of all Americans are either immigrants themselves or first generation Americans. That accounts for more than 80 million souls.
The impact of immigration on America’s economy and culture can’t be overstated. If there’s any doubt, ask the local farming or high-tech communities. It’s not just agriculture, the state’s biggest economic sector, that's depends on a steady stream of immigrant workers. There are many highly-skilled professions that depend on H-1B Visas to power their labor forces.
There’s little doubt that our immigration system is broken. Both sides agree on that. Recently there have been glimmers of optimism that both sides might be getting to “yes” on many issues necessary to fix things.
One of the major issues confronting Congress is the fate of the “Dreamers,” those brought here as children, who have remained for more than five years, gotten an education and stayed out of trouble. More than 800,000 of them registered under the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or “DACA.”
Unfortunately Mr. Obama’s executive action creating DACA far exceeded his legal authority. Last fall President Trump refused to extend it. He didn’t rescind it, instead putting the ball back in the court where it belongs—the United States Congress.
Now Congress has an opportunity to move past partisan bickering and forge a compromise that respects the rule of law, secures our borders, and also takes care of the Dreamers and allows a reasonable flow of legal immigration.
Sadly there are those who clamor for the Dreamers to be deported. That’s unrealistic on a number of levels, practically, politically and policy-wise. Then President-Elect Trump said, right after his election, that he would “work something out” for the Dreamers. He wasn’t talking about deportation.
Republicans in Congress will have to reject those cries and move forward with recognition of the legal status of the Dreamers. Providing for the Dreamers is a potential political benefit for Republicans, some of whom fear that Dreamers will simply vote for Democrats if given the franchise.
A lot of credit will come their way from folks who have been here all their lives, are fully assimilated into our culture and life and whose problem hasn't been solved by past administrations.
Democrats will need to agree to increased border security, maybe even some form of a wall, changes in the visa lottery system and ending chain migration.
By putting the matter back before Congress, President Trump created an opportunity. How far back that opportunity has been pushed by statements made by both the president and House Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi this week, remains to be seen.
The reaction of congressional leaders to those remarks was telling. The second-ranking Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer, said her “comment is offensive.” House Speaker Paul Ryan characterized President Trump’s remark as “unfortunate and unhelpful.” Diplomacy is still king on Capitol Hill.
Congress needs to act on immigration reform. The best opportunity in years is before them. Without getting to broader issues like guest worker programs they can deal with DACA and border security.
In their deliberations they might well be guided by the words of saintly Father Theodore Hesburgh, the former president of the University of Notre Dame who once advised that we should shut the back door of illegal immigration in order to keep the front door of legal immigration wide open.
I, as one of the 80 million, am eternally grateful for that open door.