Congress can’t waste this immigration opportunity

Bloomberg Opinion editorial board (TNS)

For all the acrimony surrounding immigration politics, a majority of Americans have long supported two goals: giving undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children a pathway to legal status, and securing the country’s southern border. With only days remaining in the current Congress, lawmakers have an opportunity to deliver major breakthroughs on both priorities.

A proposal by Sens. Thom Tillis and Kyrsten Sinema would reportedly provide a 10-year path to citizenship for some 2 million undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, who were brought to the US as children and who’ve lived in the country for much of their lives. It would also extend Title 42 — a public-health rule that allows for the expedited removal of border crossers — for at least a year. This would give officials a much-needed tool to ease pressure on the border, which saw a record 2.4 million attempted crossings in the year to October.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) arrives at the U.S. Capitol for a vote on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

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Just as important, the proposal addresses flaws in the asylum system that cause lengthy delays and encourage migrants to take ever-bigger risks in hopes of being released into the country. It would help clear the current backlog of claims by funding more asylum officers and judges. It would also authorize new processing centers for asylum-seekers. And additional funds would go toward hiring more Border Patrol officers and raising the pay of current employees. All told, the plan would reportedly cost up to $40 billion.

Though countless efforts to forge an immigration compromise have failed in the past, there’s reason to believe this time is different. That’s because lawmakers have rarely faced more urgency to act.

For one thing, the absence of a legislative solution for the Dreamers has left them at the mercy of legal battles over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects some 600,000 people from deportation but could still be struck down by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, a federal judge has ordered the government to halt the use of Title 42 by Dec. 21. With no viable replacement policy on the table, the crisis at the border is likely to worsen unless lawmakers finally take some responsibility for managing it.

Of course, plenty of obstacles could still obstruct such a deal. Tillis and Sinema need to line up at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate to overcome a potential filibuster. Nor is support for the proposal guaranteed among the lame-duck Democratic majority in the House. By design, the Sinema-Tillis framework aims to reduce strain on the asylum system by discouraging migrants from attempting to cross the border and expelling more of those who do. This has angered immigration advocates and progressives in Congress, some of whom have already announced their opposition.

That’s all the more reason to move quickly. The framework produces solid wins for each party: Democrats can envision as many as 2 million unauthorized immigrants finally getting their status resolved and Republicans can expect to see a serious effort made to control the border. At the same time, neither side gets everything it wants. That’s the sign of a good compromise.

— From the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board (TNS).