Despite protests across the country by left-wing activists, it appears that an extension of President Obama’s extra-constitutional Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program will not happen before the end of the year. This was the top priority of Democrats. They will fail to achieve it by the deadline they set.
No matter — the manufactured crisis Democrats sought never arrived, as President Trump set his own deadline of March 5, 2018 for action.
But this does not mean that the individuals who have benefited from DACA are not in limbo. Clearly, they are.
DACA recipients (also known as the “Dreamers”) are a subset of all illegal immigrants in this country.
In America, we differentiate between the actions of children and adults, on the belief that adults are responsible for their actions and children are not. This distinction is particularly clear in our legal system.
It should also apply for children who were brought here by their parents illegally. The parents broke the law and should be held responsible, not the children. But the question facing Congress is what should be done with the 800,000 youths who have benefited from the Obama DACA policy?
A new legislative solution has been proposed that meets a three-part test: It’s constitutional, it’s conservative, and it’s compassionate.
The SUCCEED Act (“Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education and Defending our Nation Act”) was unveiled in September by Republican Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Orrin Hatch of Utah, and offers a merit-based system that aims to make Dreamers eligible to earn citizenship over time.
The definition of amnesty is an “official pardon for people who have been convicted of offenses.” This means removing a penalty from someone who has been assessed that penalty. This bill does not meet the objective definition of amnesty, no matter how hard critics try to stretch their logic.
Under the bill, if eligible immigrants meet strict but fair conditions, they will can enter a 15-year probationary period before getting a green card. Applicants must meet one of three conditions: be in school, be employed, or serve in the military. Additionally, they must pass background checks, stay off welfare and maintain a clean criminal record.
By meeting these standards, Dreamers will be able to work, live without fear and avoid the risk of deportation. For many, this is their top priority.
These individuals want to become American citizens, and they should have that opportunity over time. This bill gives them that opportunity.
President Obama actually short-circuited a bipartisan legislative effort to deal with Dreamers that Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, and others were crafting. It was deeply irresponsible to use an executive order to give Dreamers the false hope that their status was secured.
This legislation offers a permanent fix, by requiring these individuals to contribute to society (as many already do) and it offers them green cards over time in exchange. Until that green card is earned, they are on probation. This is fair, because they are not currently citizens.
Over time, this bill is more generous than DACA was because the SUCCEED Act offers a green card at the end of a 15-year period, while DACA did not.
An important consideration for conservatives is whether any legislative solution for DACA continues “chain migration” for extended families of immigrants, at a time when many want to move toward a merit-based system for determining who gets into our country. The bill clarifies existing law by disallowing benefits or preferential treatment for other family members of DACA recipients.
The bill authors say President Trump supports their legislation, an important signal to any member of Congress who is concerned about a veto unraveling their work.
Can Democrats work to solve the DACA issue in a bipartisan and permanent way? Do they want a solution, or do they want an issue?
Democrats prefer the DREAM Act, which was introduced in 2001 and failed to pass in Congress three times (2007, 2010 and in 2013). Recall that one of the SUCCEED Act’s original sponsors, Sen. Hatch, helped craft that 2001 bill, but voted against it in 2010 after the measure was changed. That bill has no realistic legislative path.
Democrats need to decide if they want to be constructive on this issue, knowing that 800,000 Dreamers are in limbo and that their preferred bill can never pass the House. Whichever legislative version starts moving, it will also need to achieve 60 votes in the Senate, requiring at least nine Democratic votes in 2018.
That is a tough path in today’s Washington, but the SUCCEED Act is the best legislative option that solves the problem and can earn bipartisan support.
Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. His national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” may be found on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.