This op-ed originally appeared at The Hill on March 27, 2017.
As evidenced by his first two months in office, President Donald Trump is eager to fully implement his unprecedented mass deportation campaign targeting nearly all undocumented immigrants.
In light of this wide-ranging, ill-advised crackdown — and the myriad problems that it triggers — it is in the hands of Congressional Republicans to seek a legislative solution to regularize the long-term undocumented population. Such a reform would signal that sound policymaking aimed at fixing our broken immigration system — which is widely supported by Republican voters — is the party’s priority.
President Trump’s executive orders and resultant DHS implementation memos expanded deportation priorities to include nearly all 12 million undocumented individuals.
Without prioritization, undocumented, law-abiding immigrants who have been here for years could be removed before those who are a clear threat to national security and public safety.
These new rules place urgent pressure on Congress to legislate a solution—especially as ICE raids, the deportation of community leaders, and arrests of DACA holders continue.
This is partly because Trump’s orders do not take into account the large swath of undocumented individuals that have been living in the United States for an extended period of time, and are fully immersed in their respective communities.
According to Pew, two-thirds of the undocumented population has lived here for at least a decade. Just 14 percent of undocumented individual have been here less than five years. Removing them is a poor use of taxpayer resources, a misguided priority for law enforcement, and disruptives to the lives of these individuals and the stability of their communities.
Offering long-term immigrants legal status and work authorization is not amnesty, and it won’t incentivize new undocumented migration, since it is rewarding individuals based on ten years of residency. Undocumented immigrants looking for status would pay back taxes and a hefty penalty, pass background checks, submit to biometric screenings, showcase consistent job history, and demonstrate English proficiency. Those with a criminal history beyond improper entry are not eligible.
This is a measured and pragmatic approach that avoids the unnecessarily callous policies proposed by the Trump White House.
It may seem counter-intuitive to push such a policy in this seemingly hostile political climate. Yet it actually reflects what the American people support by a wide margin.
A newly released CNN poll found that nine in ten Americans — including 87 percent of Republicans — support offering the undocumented a path to regularization. This finding has been consistently highlighted in other polls, and holds true even the reddest of states.
This is not exactly a new phenomenon. About half of Republicans in 2013 supported legal status to varying degrees with certain conditions. But reform failed because Republicans felt they couldn’t trust then-President Obama to actually enforce immigration laws if they negotiated a compromise.
Now, with President Trump as the chief negotiator, these trust concerns should technically be alleviated, thus paving the way for legislative progress. The GOP is in a position to legalize long-term immigrants while offering strict enforcement for recent border crossers or visa overstayers.
The reasons why Republicans should finally seize this opportunity to push for a legislative solution to regularize the long-term undocumented population are many.
First of all, a narrow legalization program provides law enforcement with the tools and resources to identify and deport those that threaten our national security and public safety. By offering a path to legal status replete with background checks, law enforcement agencies can differentiate between criminals and law-abiding individuals.
Moreover, at about $20,000 per deportation, it’s simply not cost-effective to spend taxpayer resources to remove individuals rooted in the U.S., with robust ties to networks, families, and employers.
Finally, removing the threat of deportation and offering legalizationimproves economic outcomes for immigrants and American citizens alike, in addition to increasing tax revenues for government.
Congressional Republicans are the only actors that can prevent President Trump from running amok with his cruel, expensive, deportation campaign. The American people—including self-identified Republicans—stand firmly against his plans, and this resoluteness needs to be reflected by elected officials.
The modernization of the U.S. immigration system now lays in the hands of the GOP. The Republican must develop a vision of immigration beyond crackdowns, walls, and deportations. Voters have repeatedly communicated their overwhelming desire to offer undocumented immigrants a path to regularization. The opportunity is here for the GOP to enact a pragmatic immigration agenda that fixes our badly broken system. Republicans should not let erroneous claims about immigrants and hostile rhetoric derail them from this long overdue goal.