A compromise in plain sight: Legalize Dreamers and provide more wall funding

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Even with impeachment hearings dominating the headlines, the Trump administration and Congress can advance the nation’s best interest by striking a compromise to legalize child immigrants under DACA while providing more funds for the president’s coveted border wall.

In oral hearings last week at the U.S. Supreme Court, a conservative majority of justices appeared ready to strike down Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the 2012 executive order issued by President Obama that has allowed 700,000 young immigrants to remain in the United States even though they entered the country as minors without authorization.

DACA’s potential demise as soon as next spring is all the more reason for the president and congressional leaders to make a deal soon to fully legalize this youthful population that is already contributing to a brighter American future.

Granting permanent legal status to the so-called Dreamers would be a sure bet for America. These young people did not break the law themselves, but only followed their parents into the United States when they were under 16. To qualify for the program, they must be in school or working and have no felony or serious misdemeanor convictions.

Because they grew up here as children, they are almost universally fluent in English and culturally assimilated. They are all either working, serving in the military or studying to complete high school or college. Some are working for small and medium-sized U.S. companies as well as many of America’s largest and most successful firms.

A compromise is already in plain sight: Legalize the DACA population in exchange for congressional funding for additional wall construction on the U.S.-Mexican border. Expanding physical barriers is neither sufficient nor necessary to curb illegal immigration, but it is hugely symbolic for President Trump and his core political base. Appropriating another $5 billion or so that the president has demanded would be a small price to pay to permanently legalize such a promising cohort of young immigrants.

In fact, by permanently legalizing DACA, young people would effectively pay for extra border security spending several times over. A 2017 study by the Cato Institute estimated that legalization would save $60 billion in spending for deportation and generate $280 billion in additional economic activity over a decade.

A 2016 National Academies of Science report on the economic consequences of immigration estimated that every immigrant worker at the beginning of their career with at least a high school diploma will over their lifetime pay a net $49,000 more in taxes than they consume in government services. For those with some college, the net fiscal impact is a positive $205,000. Multiplied over 700,000 or more DACA immigrants, that would mean a positive fiscal impact of several billion dollars. Since the large majority of DACA participants are from Mexico, Trump could plausibly say that Mexico is indirectly helping to pay for the wall.

A deal for DACA in exchange for wall funding would be a win-win for both parties in Washington. Trump has said in the past that he supports DACA legalization, tweeting in 2017, “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?” 

This compromise would allow President Trump to achieve two goals without giving up anything in return. Democrats could deliver on a long-standing commitment to DACA legalization while agreeing to additional wall construction that would not fundamentally change the U.S. immigration system.

A compromise could also appeal to voters on a bipartisan basis. A poll last year by National Public Radio and Ipsos found that almost two thirds of the public, including a majority of Republicans, supports legalizing DACA eligible immigrants who were brought to the United States as minors. Support among Republicans rises to 80 percent when legalization is combined with increased spending for border security.

The clock is ticking. The Supreme Court could rule as early as next spring and free up the Trump administration to end the DACA program. DACA-eligible students and workers could be forced to leave the only country they have called home for other countries where they would be strangers.

Deportation of DACA students and workers would be an economic loss for the United States and a completely avoidable human tragedy — but only if the White House and congressional leaders don’t put aside partisanship to act in the nation’s best interest.

Daniel Griswold is a senior research fellow and co-director of the Trade and Immigration Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Tags DACA deferred action for childhood arrivals Donald Trump DREAM Act Illegal immigration to the United States Immigration reform in the United States Immigration to the United States Ipsos Mexico National Public Radio The Wall U.S. Supreme Court

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