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Democrats could compromise to win relief for undocumented immigrants

Public opinion appears to show it may be prudent for Democrats to agree to the $5 billion for President Donald Trump’s wall, in exchange for urgent relief needed for several million undocumented immigrants.

photo of fence at border with wall prototypes in background
I personally don’t support building a wall, but at this time, I think both parties need to compromise to end the shutdown and find a path forward that Americans will support.
REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

Public opinion appears to show it may be prudent for Democrats to agree to the $5 billion for President Donald Trump’s wall, in exchange for urgent relief needed for several million undocumented immigrants. Comprehensive immigration reform is preferred, but in the current stalemate incremental steps in that direction could save face for both sides. For the Democrats to hold the line for sake of principle or what they perceive as political advantage will not help immigrants. Political compromise now could move the agenda forward on immigration.

Wayne Nealis

In the last few days, the GOP and Trump indicated they are willing to resolve the legal limbo of Dreamers, the nearly 1 million children who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.  Sen. Lindsey Graham raised the prospect of resolving the status of the estimated 400,000 immigrants with temporary protection status (TPS). This includes an estimated 100,000 Haitians and Hondurans who came here after natural disasters in their countries. Some have been here for nearly 20 years. Many have children. Trump has threatened to deport them, but he also knows Americans do not support deporting families.

In addition to these remedies, the Democrats could agree to end the visa lottery program that awards 50,000 applicants a visa each year. As well intentioned as it is, this program does not have wide public support. As well, the program negatively affects developing nations, as an estimated 50 percent who emigrate are technical professionals. In exchange, the Democrats should propose using these visa slots to gain the legal status of another 50,000 parents of Dreamers each year to keep these families intact. This compromise should be easy, as Democrats already agreed to end the visa lottery in the 2013 bill for comprehensive reform and border security that came close to passing.

Factors in Democrats’ favor

Two factors lean in Democrats’ favor to reach a win-win compromise. A Gallup poll in June showed 83 percent of Americans favor allowing Dreamers permanent legal status and a route to citizenship. If the Democrats held firm, Trump and the GOP are not likely to oppose a solution that this poll shows a significant portion of their own voters favor. Tactically, putting this offer on the table would also test whether Trump and the GOP leadership are serious about making a deal.

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Secondly, Trump needs a win. He is aware he has shaky support for continuing the shutdown. According to a Marist Poll concluded Dec. 4, 2018, 63 percent of independents and 29 percent of Republicans urged Trump to compromise to avoid gridlock. It’s not likely that has changed for the better. On the other hand, nearly 50 percent of those polled support building some type of border wall. These figures indicate that a compromise by both parties is a sensible approach.

It may be possible for Democrats to raise the ante to win even more concessions, but at a minimum they must demand a win for Dreamers, their parents and the TPS immigrants. Such a compromise could engender the political trust necessary to negotiate a legal path for all current undocumented immigrants.

It will take years to spend the $5 billion. We spend this amount every couple of weeks waging senseless wars that both political parties supported and funded. Immigration is as much about foreign policy as it is about borders. Many Americans are unaware that for decades, both Democratic and GOP administrations made foreign policy choices that contributed to destabilizing the Central American nations from which many immigrants are fleeing.

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A different approach would help

Instead of interfering in their domestic politics and providing military aid, we could change our policies and generate American jobs that contribute to their development needs. These steps would bring hope to those suffering the indignities of poverty and injustice that prompt them to seek opportunities across the U.S. border.

I personally don’t support building a wall, but at this time, I think both parties need to compromise to end the shutdown and find a path forward that Americans will support. Do we have leaders who will guide us? Clearly, with a congressional approval rating hovering in the low 20s, Americans have little confidence in those governing. GOP leaders appear unable to bring their extreme right wing on board, so it will take Democrats to find a compromise with less strident Republicans to win incremental battles to aid immigrants and take steps toward comprehensive reform.

Wayne Nealis is a writer and long-time single payer activist and former union activist living in Minneapolis.

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