Congress Blog

Ending the shutdown presents opportunity for a solution on immigration

With nearly two weeks away from Washington during the holidays and a new session of Congress ahead, all members of the House and Senate should be well-rested, clear-minded, and ready to get back to work. Instead of continuing the current log jam that has resulted in a partial-government shutdown, solutions-driven members of Congress should work to produce outcomes most Americans want: ending the government shutdown, funding border security, and passing a commonsense solution for the young men and women who came to the United States as children and now compromise the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) population.

The president and many members of Congress - both Republican and Democrat - have stated we need to secure our borders once and for all.

They're right to do so. Border security is a matter of national security. We must know "who" and "what" are crossing our Northern and Southern borders, and we must have the ability to control it. Billions of dollars in illicit drugs, including the vast majority of heroin in the United States, are smuggled across our Southern border every year. The real-life human consequence - thousands of annual overdose deaths - have been tragic for many families in comminutes across the country. 

There is also a humanitarian crisis for the adult and children migrants who make the dangerous journey to enter the United States. They are often forced to rely on the services of "coyotes," who are employed by the organized drug cartels that prey upon migrants and are responsible for the assault and murder of innocent people. Over the past 20 years, an estimated 7,200 people, including children, have died a lonely death once they cross American soil because of dehydration, exposure and exhaustion.

When it comes to securing our borders, it's important to note that the real solution is not going to be a big, literal physical wall, but rather an all-the-above, all-hands-on deck approach: more funding for personnel, more funding for technology and more funding for infrastructure, including physical barriers and steel fences.

The need for a 21st century approach to border security cannot be understated. It's time for elected officials in both parties to stop paying lip service and finally get it done by ending the chase for the perfect in order to achieve the good. 

The American people also want a long-term solution for the DACA population-the 700,000 young residents who were brought to the United States as children through no fault of their own and then registered through the DACA program to be able to legally reside and work here.

When the president announced he was phasing out DACA in late 2017, I introduced the SUCCEED Act which offers a merit-based process for the DACA-eligible population to earn a 10 to 12-year path to citizenship as long as they work hard, contribute to their communities, and follow the law. 

After introducing the bill, I was derided by the far-right as an amnesty-supporting "RINO," despite reiterating that it would have to be part of a larger compromise that would also secure our borders. Time certainly changed things. In the ensuing months, the president and many of my Republican colleagues grew increasingly willing to support merit-based citizenship for DACA recipients if paired with a viable border security plan.

 

In February 2018, three proposals came before the Senate that incorporated border security and a DACA solution. While all three proposals failed to pass, there was a silver lining. One of the proposals earned the support of the vast majority of the Senate Republican conference, along with a handful of Democrats. The proposal included a merit-based path to citizenship, and the vote was a breakthrough that makes compromise easier to achieve moving forward, including in the current moment.

Congress has failed to produce a solution because too many members have caved to extreme voices on the far-left (who think we should be building bridges instead of borders) or the far-right (who think we should round up all undocumented immigrants and "send them home").  When people ask me who "owns" the shutdown I credit these people-card carrying members of the far-left and far-right, who are unwilling to compromise, who lack the courage to stand up to the naysayers, or who simply want to keep using immigration as a divisive political issue. Whatever their rationale, it's at the expense of producing a good outcome that is in the best interest of the American people. 

I hope members of Congress are prepared to reach a compromise that is well within reach.  We can end the shutdown, secure the border, and take a major step forward on immigration reform by providing long-term certainty to the DACA population.  All it will require is the courage to force out the extreme elements on either side of the aisle, the respect to use language that engenders cooperation, and the discipline to remain focused on bridging the gap.

Tillis is the junior senator from North Carolina.  

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