Immigration reform is still possible and conservatives can lead the way

Immigration reform is still possible and conservatives can lead the way
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October 5th is a critical deadline for nearly 150,000 young people living in the United States: it’s the last day that Dreamers, whose legal status is set to expire in early March, can renew their enrollment in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In cities and towns across the country, millions of family members and friends are anxiously standing by as their loved ones scramble to submit paperwork on time.

For the 740,000 young people who received temporary protection from deportation through DACA, March 5, 2018, the day President Trump will end the program, looms large in their lives.

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As important as DACA has been to these young people and their families, for the rest of us it has opened hearts and changed minds. Americans now realize their child’s best friend is undocumented, the family one pew over in church is undocumented or the family down the street is undocumented.

 

However, if we are going to come together around a DACA fix and meaningful reforms to the immigration system, then we have to acknowledge upfront that the vast majority of Americans are between two poles. One pole pulls them towards being a nation of laws, safe and secure. The other pulls them towards being an open and welcoming nation.

Put another way: most Americans want to live in a country with a strong border where we treat each other with compassion and respect. In 2017, leadership on immigration requires this most basic yet profound appreciation.

The good news is that we are closer to consensus than most people realize. Despite the rancor of the 2016 election and the heated, sporadic rhetoric of the Trump presidency, nothing has fundamentally changed when it comes to proposing and adopting sensible policies on borders, jobs and refugees. There may be headwinds, but Republicans and Democrats can still align on shared values and pass legislation.

Here’s how.

First, a 21st Century immigration process has to address our country’s right to protect its borders and ensure community safety and adherence to rule of law. A wall is not a substitute for a broad approach on border security. We already have 21,000 agents on the border and 651 miles of fencing. What we need are strategic physical barriers in necessary locations, new infrastructure and personnel at ports of entry, and additional training and oversight for border patrol.

Second, we have to acknowledge that immigrants in our workforce are key to our continued economic growth. These are men and women who not only launch some of the most innovative businesses on the planet — think Google, Dupont and Pfizer — but who also answer the need for diverse skillsets across sectors. And as policymakers and business owners across the country know, our economy needs the skilled engineer as much as it needs the skilled farmworker.

Third, welcoming refugees who flee violence and persecution is core to America’s values. From Silicon Valley to farm country to meat packing plants, refugees across the U.S. are integrating, working, earning, praying and adding to the vitality of our economy and our communities. The Trump administration can do better ensuring our refugee policies reflect our strong support for vulnerable people whose greatest hope is a chance to start anew in the U.S.

Finally, if we are going to reform our immigration system, then we must address the cultural and economic anxieties over immigration by reaching across party and community lines. That’s why I’m enthusiastic that over 200 conservative and moderate faith, business and law enforcement leaders are coming to Washington, D.C. this week to press for a new approach to American immigration. That these leaders, who bring crucial credibility to the conservative conversation, are convening today — the same day that some Dreamers must renew their applications — demonstrates there is real momentum to get something done.  

In his farewell address in 1989, President Reagan imagined America as the proverbial shining city on a hill. In that shining city, as Reagan put it, “if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” 

If we have the will and the heart to reach out and find common ground, then we can protect young people already living in the country, while strengthening and securing our immigration system for generations to come.                                                                                                      

Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum and author of the 2017 book “There Goes the Neighborhood.”