This man might get Trump and Dems to reach a deal on border security and reopening government

A compromise proposal that President Trump offered Saturday to reopen the government and get $5.7 billion to build a barrier along over 200 miles of our southern border – in return for protecting 1 million immigrants from deportation for three years – was quickly rejected by top congressional Democrats.

Now what?

Relations between Trump and congressional Democrats have deteriorated into such a bitter feud that it doesn’t appear the two sides will reconcile without a mediator. And there is one man – a legislative tactician with long experience in hammering out compromises – more qualified than anyone else to bring the two sides together.

That man is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Now is the time for McConnell to get off the sidelines and forge an agreement between Trump and both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.

No reasonable person would argue that the 29-day partial government shutdown that is depriving 800,000 federal workers and thousands of contractors of their paychecks can continue indefinitely.

And at the same time, it’s unreasonable for the government to threaten to deport the 1 million immigrants allowed to stay in the U.S. under two programs: the 700,000 young people protected by DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and the 300,000 immigrants protected with TPS (Temporary Protected Status).

DACA recipients were brought to the U.S. in violation of immigration laws by their parents when they were children – some as babies. Many have little or no memory of the countries of their birth, and little or no ability to speak the language of their birth country – usually Spanish.

Immigrants protected by TPS come from designated nations where natural disasters, conflicts or other dire conditions make it dangerous to return. Under the 30-year-old program nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador, for example, have been allowed to live and work in the U.S. since at least 2001, following two earthquakes that devastated the nation.

President Trump wants to end both DACA and TPS for most countries. His move against DACA is being challenged in court and may wind up in the Supreme Court. Challenges to his move against TPS are moving through the courts as well.

How McConnell responds to the stalemate between the president and congressional Democrats will determine not only whether the government reopens quickly, but also whether President Trump can win re-election in 2020.

And in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., want protection for DACA and TPS recipients to stay in the U.S. permanently. The Democrats are dead-set against funding for the border wall that the president said repeatedly during his campaign Mexico would pay for.

After Trump gave a nationally televised speech from the White House to announce his compromise Saturday, Pelosi said it was a “non-starter” because it does not provide a permanent solution to let DACA and TPS recipients stay in the U.S.

How McConnell responds to the stalemate between the president and congressional Democrats will determine not only whether the government reopens quickly, but also whether President Trump can win re-election in 2020.

Polling shows that 58 percent of Americans oppose a border wall. And 53 percent blame the White House and congressional Republicans for the government shutdown.

So the task facing McConnell is to hammer out a reasonable solution that balances effective border security (not just a “wall”) and a permanent solution for DACA and TPS recipients to stay in America.

Reaching such a compromise is a final opportunity for the GOP to win back the suburban and exurban voters who overwhelmingly delivered Democrats control of the House in November.

These voters – and Americans overall – are looking for elected leaders who can unify rather than polarize the country when it comes to immigration.

Last year, the National Immigration Forum – where I serve as executive director – traveled to 26 cities and towns nationwide, meeting with many Americans in the political center to discuss their views on immigration.

The purpose of sitting down with faith leaders in Gainesville, Florida; police officers in Storm Lake, Iowa; and business owners in Marietta, Georgia, was to gain a more granular understanding of the hopes, fears, and ideas that inform the immigration debate at a time of profound change in the U.S.

Our goal was to help advance a constructive dialogue in the country going forward.

By the time we held our final “Living Room Conversation” in Sugar Land, Texas, in late June and produced a report detailing our findings, two things became clear. And both of these take on added import in the wake of President Trump’s proposal Saturday.

First, we learned that those Americans in the middle of the political spectrum – the men and women who determine who controls political power in Washington – want a tough but compassionate system that encourages newcomers to come to the U.S. and make a meaningful contribution.

These Americans want immigrants to follow the law, but they also care about the plight of families working hard and seeking a new beginning.

And second, we learned that bashing immigrants is not a winning political strategy.

Republican Ed Gillespie learned this toward the end of his unsuccessful gubernatorial run in 2017 in Virginia. Unsuccessful GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney learned this after proposing “self-deportation” for undocumented immigrants in his unsuccessful presidential bid in 2012.

And President Trump should have learned this lesson when – after bashing immigrants in a nation of immigrants – the Republican Party lost control of the House in the November midterm elections.

That brings us back to McConnell’s choice.

The Senate Republican leader must consider what type of nation we want to be: one that ends the contributions of – and possibly deports – 1 million individuals who are earning diplomas, holding jobs, and strengthening our communities? Or one that can remain both a nation of laws and a nation of grace?

The right choice allows us to invest in infrastructure upgrades, advanced technology and more personnel at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border.

With such a compromise, the president and Congress could extend permanent protections to Dreamers and TPS recipients so we bring stability to their lives and cement their contributions to our economy and security.

Such a compromise would send a message to the world that America’s doors remain open to those who want to work hard and realize their own American dreams.

An “exhausted majority” that comprises two-thirds of Americans dislikes polarization and wants their elected officials to find common ground. That’s true today as a demoralizing debate around a wall and a government shutdown rages on. And it will remain true as Sen. McConnell attempts to put together a compromise package before the 2020 campaign season goes into full swing.

President Trump’s remarks Saturday were a reminder that compromise is possible. Faith, law enforcement and business leaders – to say nothing of Americans overall – want our leaders to reach the compromises that move our nation forward.

Between proposals from the White House and the Democratic-led House of Representatives, McConnell has an opportunity to craft a compromise that keeps Americans safe and permanently extends the American Dream to some 1 million hard-working immigrants who are already contributing to our nation

It’s time to end the confrontation between Democrats and Republicans over immigration and replace it with compromise and cooperation, allowing the government to reopen and enabling people who’ve lived in the U.S. for years to stay here, keep contributing, and eventually earn citizenship.

This op-ed was originally published on on January 20, 2019. 

Noorani's Notes

Look beyond the headlines and stay informed about the latest on immigration with a daily weekday newsletter from the Forum’s president and CEO, Ali Noorani.


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