Opinion: Congress needs to stop holding DACA deal hostage
Since President Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in September 2017, the promise of reinstating the program and offering DACA recipients a pathway to citizenship has been used as legislative bait.
Republicans used the promise of a deal on DACA to pass multiple spending bills and to raise the debt ceiling. However, repeatedly making a promise and not delivering will eventually result in in the deterioration of future deals and lead to legislative stalemates. Thus, it is high time that Republicans get serious about putting together a plan that will protect DACA recipients and offer a pathway to citizenship.
Right after ending the DACA program in September, Trump had several meetings with Democratic leadership discussing a possible deal on immigration, while also encouraging Democrats to vote in favor of a bill to raise the debt ceiling. In December, the promise of reinstating the DACA program was used twice in order to shepherd through the passage of stopgap funding legislation preventing government shutdowns.
On January 22, the Democratic Party tried to take a legislative hostage of their own by vowing to block any government spending bill that would prevent a government shutdown unless it included of a path to citizenship for DACA recipients. Unlike Republicans, the Democratic Party took the wrong hostage.
The same CNN poll that measured the favorability of creating a pathway to citizenship also measured what individuals thought was more important, avoiding a government shutdown or solving the issue of DACA. Only a third of those responding favored holding out for the DACA program. So when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a promise to bring legislation on DACA to the floor if the funding passed, Democrats had to take the option out.
Another spending bill passed a month later, yet that promise has yet to be realized. While the Democrats have yet to find suitable legislative leverage, that does not mean that the Republican Party should continue to dangle DACA as bait for passing legislation.
When the DACA program was ended, Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed the program deprived “hundreds of thousands of Americans jobs by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”
However, the United States Department of Labor reports that unemployment is at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, a level that economists near consider full-employment. As many DACA recipients are already conditionally employed, giving them a path to citizenship where they can seek an education and employment without fear of deportation would not cause unemployment to rise.
Additionally, the Center for American Progress predicted that allowing those eligible for the former DACA program to become legal citizens would add $22.7 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product. This boost to the GDP would help the U.S. economy, not hurt it.
Overall, the public views the reinstatement of the DACA program along with a path to citizenship for recipients favorably. A CNN poll conducted in January found that 84 percent of Americans said they would like for Congress to pass legislation on the DACA program.
It is this high favorability that has prompted Democrats to repeatedly call for legislation that would address the situation of undocumented immigrants. In return, Republicans have repeatedly used the promise of a deal as legislative leverage, and consistently failed to follow through.
If the Republicans make an immigration bill the top priority, they will be negotiating from a position of strength. President Trump has said that any immigration bill would need to include funding for the border wall, an end to chain migration and the end of the diversity visa lottery. Meanwhile the Democrats main provision, a pathway to citizenship for DACA qualified individuals, is already favored by many Republicans.
In an interview on Sunday, Feb. 11, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D) indicated a willingness to fund additional boarder security through a bipartisan compromise on DACA. This promise was echoed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer last December.
Passing DACA would give both parties, particularly Republicans, a significant bipartisan win. However, if the Republicans continue to use DACA as bait, the Democrats will fight back.
Down the road a Republican legislative initiative will become road blocked in the Senate. When that happens, Republicans will be forced to add a DACA provision to the proposed legislation on the Democrats terms.
Early Monday morning, Feb. 12, a group of six Republican senators led by Chuck Grassley and James Lankford proposed a bill that centers around a solution for the DACA program. It also includes each of President Trump’s immigration requirements.
This bill needs to go to the floor for consideration and passage if Republicans hope to move forward with their legislative agenda.
Lapp is the opinion editor.