The House on Tuesday passed a thoroughly reasonable bill that would offer a path to citizenship to the so-called Dreamers and provide some relief for other people who have been receiving humanitarian-based protections from deportation.
Unfortunately, because it is a reasonable bill that even managed to draw a handful of Republican votes, it will in all likelihood die in Mitch McConnell’s Senate, even though a vast majority of Americans support the idea.
And that, in a nutshell, is why we can’t have anything nice.
The American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, two related proposals packaged as HR. 6, essentially says that people who qualified for temporary protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and others meeting similar criteria, would be protected from deportation and provided a path to citizenship.
These are the folks — about 2 million people could be eligible — who arrived in the U.S. as children, mostly brought in by their parents with no say in the matter. They’ve been raised in many cases as Americans. Some don’t speak the language of the country where they were born, and many have been educated in U.S. schools. We have, as a nation, invested heavily in these folks’ future.
So what sense does it make to tell they can no longer live here?
Little to none, is the answer, which most of us recognize. A Gallup poll from a year ago — and there’s no reason to think the numbers have changed markedly — found that three out of four Republicans supported a path to citizenship for the Dreamers, and 92% of Democrats supported it.
The American Promise Act section of the bill attacks a different problem. Under U.S. law, the government can grant deferrals from deportation for foreign nationals who are in the U.S. when calamities strike their home countries, such as devastating earthquakes in Central American countries, or civil war in Liberia.
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Called Temporary Protected Status, the deferrals allow people to remain in the U.S., and grants them permission to work until conditions in their home country have settled sufficiently to allow them to return. So some people with TPS status have been here for years, working, becoming members of communities, starting families and, in the case of about 27,000 people, starting businesses.
Currently about 320,000 people from 10 countries, including El Salvador, Haiti and Sudan, have TPS. The Trump administration sought to end the protections for most of them, yet it hasn’t done a very good job of explaining exactly how conditions in those home countries have improved, and the orders have been blocked by courts (if this were a movie, Trump’s defense law firm would be named Arbitrary and Capricious).
It’s a notable failure of this administration that Americans must presume that just about any policy it adopts is done as a pretext to achieve some other end — in this case to appease the hard-right nationalists in the White House and among Trump’s loyalist base.
There is a legitimate discussion to be had about how long TPS designations should last. If people from Country A receive the status because of an earthquake, yet civil unrest over ensuing years continues to make it unsafe for them to return, should they retain TPS? And is there a time threshold after which TPS recipients should be given the opportunity to normalize their status in the U.S.? Should those who jave put down roots be forced to leave just because peace has come to their home country?
Come to think of it, those would be wonderful points to see debated in the Senate as it considers the measure approved by the House, after which it should approve a variation of this bill, hammer out any differences with the House, enact it, and get the president — who has zig-zagged on the issue but who has also said, “We’re going to take care of everybody” — to sign it into law. But it seems unlikely that any such debate will occur.
The White House has already come out against the bill, saying relief for the Dreamers should come as part of an immigration package, if it comes at all. But that merely reduces the issue to a bargaining chip. This is a problem for which we have an acceptable legislative solution that is bound up by gamesmanship, not policy differences.
It’s irksome that the Senate leadership lets the White House set its legislative agenda. McConnell isn’t a legislative leader in an independent arm of the government; he is the president’s personal fixer in the Senate.
And the nation pays the price.