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At least one troubling political issue of today could be settled by reasonable bipartisan action — the operational word, of course, being reasonable. That issue is the Dreamers.

The Dreamers are the individuals who entered the country as children of illegal immigrants, and who were given a special status by the Obama Administration to remain in the country for two years and be eligible for a work permit. Obama’s action was termed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The individuals who registered are called Dreamers because of an immigration bill titled the DREAM Act which was before Congress in 2001 and never passed.

When DACA was issued, President Obama invited all eligible individuals to formally apply for temporary protection from deportation. About 800,000 did, revealing at the time who they were, where they lived, their employers, and their schools.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump declared frequently that he would deport all illegal immigrants including their children. Once Trump was in office, his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, began the process of deportation, but he was blocked by a decision of the Supreme Court. At one point, Trump came to terms with Congressional Democratic leaders whereby the Dreamers would stay and there would be was increased border security. When the status of that deal was questioned, Trump told reporters, “We’re working on a plan for DACA.” But apparently the Republican leaders in Congress were not in on the deal, and they have made no effort to legislate a solution.

The principle argument against the Dreamers is that their parents broke the law by entering the country and their children should not be rewarded for this. It would be like letting the children of bank robbers keep the money, some have argued. This is absurd. Entering the country without a visa is a violation of immigration law, punishable by deportation. Robbing a bank is a crime, punishable by prison time. The two are not equal.

The best argument for the Dreamers is that they have committed no crimes and have lived and worked in America most of their lives. To deport them would break up families and disrupt their lives disastrously.

Trump’s main issue with DACA is obviously that it was done by Obama, and he wants to undo everything Obama did. But Obama’s action was not partisan. He acted because the Congress refused to do so and the issue needed to be addressed. It still does.

The Dreamers are here because of the failure of past immigration policies, policies that were in reality never enforceable. What needs to be done now is to make the best of that failure.

U.S. immigration policies have for most of our history attempted to preserve the white race. Over the years, there have been all sorts of quotas and exclusions, always with that aim. But the U.S. has tens of thousands of miles of coastline and borders and hundreds of seaports and airports. No number of border guards, patrol boats, and walls can prevent people who are desperate for a better life from entering this country, even those who are not white.

So, we must face the reality that the Dreamers are here. They are living the lives of ordinary American citizens: working, going to college, serving in the military and paying taxes. To round up that many people and force them to go to another country where they may or may not have relatives, may not know the language, and do not have a way to make a living would be an inhuman thing to do, worthy of Nazi Germany. Add to that, deporting 800,000 people would be a gargantuan and costly undertaking that would damage the U.S. economy and that of several other countries.

What would be a reasonable solution? Amnesty, a blanket grant of citizenship to all Dreamers, is out of the question. Some sort of accelerated program that follows the usual procedures for naturalization on a much broader scale would do the job. However, as things now stand Dreamers cannot be naturalized unless they leave the country and apply for re-admission. If that rule was changed, the Dreamers could go through the naturalization process and become citizens. The process would eliminate convicted criminals, security risks, indigents, and other undesirables who would be eligible for deportation.

Polls show that a majority of Americans favor allowing the Dreamers to stay. Congress needs to set aside partisan bickering and find a reasonable path to citizenship for them.

David Conrad, of Murphysboro, is a retired SIUC professor of history and the author of several books.


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