All eyes are on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the deadline approaches for his promised debate on the fate of young undocumented immigrants, including up to 5,459 in Kentucky, who were brought to this country as children.
More is needed from McConnell than just keeping his promise to allow a vote, however. McConnell also must lead, even though it means clashing with the Trump White House.
Coming up with the votes to grant legal status to Dreamers won’t be hard in either the Senate or House. Enough Republicans would be willing to join Democrats in support of legal status for the young people who signed up for Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals or DACA.
Nor is public support an obstacle. Two-thirds of Americans tell pollsters they support legal status for undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children. Support is higher among Democrats (81 percent) but 51 percent of Republicans also favor legal status for Dreamers, according to a new NPR/Ipsos poll.
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Remember, this is an artificial crisis created by President Donald Trump when he revoked DACA five months ago. Trump set a cutoff of March 5, when, without congressional action, deportations can begin for almost 700,000 DACA participants. Trusting in the government’s good faith, they registered in return for access to work permits. It’s estimated that another 2.9 million people who did not register for DACA are in the U.S. after being brought here by undocumented adults.
The Dreamers are not a threat or drain. To the contrary, they’re already contributors to their adopted country. In Kentucky, according to the state Chamber of Commerce, 90.5 percent of the DACA-eligible population who are 16 or older are employed and paying $10 million a year in taxes.
Remember, too, that five years ago, the Senate, by a lopsided margin, passed comprehensive immigration reform that would have tightened border security, gone a long way toward solving agriculture’s labor problems, increased visas for highly skilled workers and provided a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. After all that heavy lifting by the Senate, the House did not even take up the bill.
Both Democrats and Republicans would be willing to give Trump upgrades in border security. But after dropping the DACA time-bomb in their laps, Trump should not expect Senate Republicans, who hold the slimmest of majorities, to vet and vote on his sweeping immigration plan by the March 5 cutoff. Trump can’t expect many Republicans to ever get behind his plan, which goes far beyond curbs on illegal immigration to restrict legal immigration in cruel ways that would harm U.S. competitiveness and standing.
The promise of a vote on DACA is what Democrats got from McConnell in exchange for ending a brief government shutdown last month. Several bills are being worked on by various groups, both partisan and bipartisan, in the Senate. But not even the Republicans closest to McConnell say they know what the Kentuckian plans to put on the floor for debate next week.
Hailed as a master tactician, McConnell should build a veto-proof bipartisan coalition that will open the door for these young immigrants to contribute to their adopted nation of immigrants.