Who the heck knows what's going to happen to the "dreamers," immigrants who came illegally to the U.S. as children, despite all the talk in Washington? Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program -- at the White House's direction, presumably -- leaving dreamers targets for deportation if Congress fails to act in the next six months. Quickly, the president seemed to have second thoughts, tweeting and making offhand comments about his great "love" for dreamers while suggesting that if they get left out in the cold, it will be Congress' fault. Then, on Wednesday, he invited congressional Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to dinner at the White House and seemed to acquiesce in a deal to pass a version of the DREAM Act granting protection from deportation as long as it is coupled with beefed-up border security. But none of the parties present can agree on what was actually decided -- and Republicans in Congress are balking at any deal cut without their involvement. The "Art of the Deal" this is not. It's more like The Three Stooges at the White House.
Except for the most rabid immigrant restrictionists, most politicians and their constituents have no interest in kicking out young people whose parents brought them illegally as children but who grew up here and contribute to their communities by working, going to college or serving in the military. Polls show that two-thirds of Donald Trump voters, along with even larger majorities of other Americans, want the dreamers to stay. Nonetheless, the Republican Party has made being tough on illegal immigration the sine qua non of conservatism, which makes it difficult to put together legislation that can garner enough GOP votes to get a bill to the floor of the House and, if passed, secure the 60 votes needed in the Senate to avoid a filibuster. With a different president -- one with real leadership skills, not the reality TV version Trump embodies -- it might be possible. But does anyone who has watched this president operating over the past eight months have much faith that he will rise to the occasion?
Somebody needs to step into the leadership vacuum on this issue (as on many others, most notably tax reform). We've gone from the imperial presidency of Barack Obama, who used executive orders and the regulatory process to rewrite legislation he didn't like or enact policies he couldn't get passed after the Democrats lost control of Congress, to the ineptness of Trump's White House, which gets almost nothing done. The inability to resolve the dreamers' issue might not be the most consequential failure of Republicans come the 2018 elections, but it would illustrate the quagmire the party created for itself. More importantly, it would show a heinous disregard for the suffering it would bring to millions of hardworking young dreamers, their parents and their spouses -- many of the latter of whom are U.S. citizens -- as well as their American-born children. This is ugly and wrong and entirely avoidable.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday, "The president understands that he's going to have to work with the congressional majorities to get any kind of legislative solution." But if Ryan continues the path he's chosen in recent months of caving to the immigration hard-liners in his caucus who want to keep any legislation from making it through committee -- much less coming to the floor for a vote -- he'll be as much of a problem as Trump. Ryan has tried to have it both ways, sounding sympathetic to the plight of the dreamers but doing nothing to forge a solution for fear of losing his job. That's not leadership; it's cowardice.
The parameters of an acceptable deal are clear: Give conditional legal residency to dreamers who pass tough background investigations, pay back taxes if owed, complete high school and enroll in college, get a job, or join the military. But the devil will be in the details. Conservatives should take a good look at legislation offered by Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and James Lankford, R-Okla., the Recognizing America's Children Act, which would bring tough enforcement mechanisms if enrollees were to fail to live up to their promises but also would allow a path to permanent resident status and eventual citizenship if they were to fulfill the terms by graduating college, serving in the armed forces and obtaining employment. These goals reflect conservative values; they don't undermine them.
America needs workers -- and dreamers are already here and willing to do their part. Those enrolled in the Obama administration's DACA program already have a 90 percent employment rate. The last thing we need as the economy finally comes out of the doldrums of the past 10 years is to lose hundreds of thousands of young, productive workers because no one in a position to lead steps up to fix the problem.