For departing Ryan, a legacy-making opportunity on immigration
© Greg Nash

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan moving family to Washington Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington Ex-Parkland students criticize Kellyanne Conway MORE (R-Wis.) isn’t running for reelection. Before he goes gently into the good Wisconsin night, however, this year the speaker can make one more legacy-defining move – one consistent with his 20-year commitment to fostering economic growth and business competitiveness.

He can start to fix our broken immigration system.


Last week, 240 House members, led by Reps. Jeff DenhamJeffrey (Jeff) John DenhamEx-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm Ex-GOP Rep. Denham heads to lobbying firm Crazy California an outlier? No, we are the canary in the coal mine MORE (R-Calif.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Democrat running for Will Hurd's seat raises over million in first 100 days of campaign Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (R-Texas), joined together to try to force a debate in the House on measures to provide solutions for Dreamers.

If Ryan supports this effort, he could smooth passage for a deal to fund the border wall that is Trump’s signature issue in exchange for a path to citizenship for most or all of the “Dreamers,” the nearly 2 million young people first brought to the country illegally as children who are now working, getting or already have received their degree, or serving in the military. Nearly 700,000 of these Dreamers are now in legal limbo as the courts decide whether President TrumpDonald John Trump Former US ambassador: 'Denmark is not a big fan of Donald Trump and his politics' Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Detroit county sheriff endorses Booker for president MORE acted legally when he ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last fall.

The border/Dreamer deal makes sense for several reasons. First, the DACA-eligible population earns nearly $20 billion in income per year and pays more than $3 billion in taxes. Keeping those earners in their jobs and here in America is good for the bottom line.

Politically, too, the border/Dreamer deal is as good – and as safe – as it gets.

That fact might get lost amid all the chatter about Trump’s base getting fed up and revolting over immigration, but it’s true. At the behest of New American Economy, one of the country’s leading Republican pollsters recently conducted a survey that showed the breadth and depth of Republican and conservative voter support for a border/Dreamer deal.

Start with a couple key voting blocs increasingly vital to the Party of Ryan’s prospects. Among Republicans and conservatives, young people (79 percent) and college-educated women (82 percent) support a deal. It’s especially worth noting that three-quarters of white working-class men – the bloc Trump supposedly is trying to woo with his recent rhetoric – support the deal, too. They want to secure the border, but not at the cost of deporting Dreamers and wrecking lives and careers. Overall, in fact, 86 percent of Trump base voters back a border/Dreamer deal. 

Looking at those kinds of numbers, and up against major political headwinds, several House Republicans already see a low-risk, high-reward proposition. Last month Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanBottom Line Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform MORE (R-Colo.) introduced a “discharge petition” to force a House vote on extending protections for Dreamers for three years. Denham, saying “the gridlock simply cannot continue,” invoked the House’s “queen-of-the-hill” rule in an effort to bring four immigration reform bills directly to the floor for a vote.

Coffman’s and Denham’s moves both face long odds, but the signal they’re sending is clear. They’re ready to get creative and deliver an immigration fix. But they need their leader to lead.

So here’s what Ryan can do, before the clock runs out on his speakership. It’s quite simple. He can bring a bill to protect Dreamers in exchange for border security up for a vote. And he can burnish his legacy in the bargain, at the same time he makes good on his past promises to Dreamers.

A win on immigration – and the real progress Paul Ryan has championed for years – sits on the table, there for the taking. The Speaker should seize the opportunity, for the good of his party and the country. 

Jeremy Robbins is executive director of New American Economy, a coalition of Republican, Democratic and independent mayors and business leaders who support immigration reform. Follow him on Twitter: @JeremyARobbins