One Area of Immigration Reform We Can All Agree On

As the public enjoys the brighter days of spring, leaders on Capitol Hill are weathering stormier times. Even while finding themselves in what is anticipated to be a momentous midterm year, both the executive and legislative branches are at an impasse on the issue of immigration.

Media narratives, pundits and voluble echoes of social media frame stalled talks as illustrative of a polarized and demanding public on the issue. But beyond the clamor, evidence reveals there is one topic within the issue of immigration that many Americans agree on: fixing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and providing relief to its estimated 689,000 recipients1, otherwise known as “Dreamers.”

While the extreme rhetoric surrounding DACA has surged, there’s been little action, despite consistent trends showing support for leaders to do something about the program and, in particular, to help its recipients. This has caused many in Washington to blame the opposing party or be dissuaded from doing anything at all—ignoring the will of the public.

Almost 80 percent of Americans say it should be a priority for Congress to grant legal status to children who came with their parents to the U.S. illegally.

As the election year progresses, all indications are pointing to a public ready to take action to help DACA recipients. A number of polls conducted throughout the year found strong and consistent support for Dreamers to stay in the country. For example:

  • A recent NPR/Marist poll found that a majority—almost 80 percent—of Americans say it should be a priority for Congress to grant legal status to children who came with their parents to the U.S. illegally.
  • In January, a CBS News poll found nearly nine in 10 Americans favored allowing immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to stay.
  • Another January poll by Pew found that 74 percent of the American public favored granting permanent legal status to young children who came to the U.S. illegally.
  • A February NPR/Ipsos poll found two-thirds of Americans support legal status for Dreamers.

Indeed, an overwhelming amount of surveys suggest the public are themselves engaged and willing to move the needle on a DACA resolution. Yet nothing meaningful has been accomplished. There have been bipartisan efforts, albeit imperfect ones, by a small coalition of lawmakers to come to a consensus. But such efforts continue to derail, leaving DACA recipients in limbo and making it even more unclear whether political leaders as a whole are prepared, or willing, to mobilize on an issue that has profound policy implications for the entire country.

Since the program was instituted in 2012 via an executive order by the Obama administration, DACA recipients (mostly ages 25 or younger2) have been able to remain in the country, obtain temporary work permits, earn income, pay taxes, access health services, pursue educational opportunities and enlist for military service. Regardless of political allegiance, Americans support enabling DACA recipients to continue to do so, perhaps because they recognize the valuable economic and practical impact Dreamers’ inclusion in society has on the country. Or maybe because they simply believe that it’s the right thing to do for law-abiding adults who were brought to the U.S. as children and have considered it their home for as long as they can remember.

When looking closer at the survey research, DACA appears to be an issue on which most Americans can find compromise. Independents, Democrats and Republicans mostly agree there should be some relief for the program’s recipients3. In listening to the opinion of the public, leaders have a real opportunity to leverage this common ground to shape policy reflective of the public will. But public opinion is not enough.

On the local level, people are wrestling with the issue of immigration on their own terms, trying to figure out what’s right for their community, not waiting for Congressional leaders to solve it for them. But national policy is important, and if lawmakers don’t deliver on what the public wants, Americans have an even greater opportunity this November to use their democratic voice to ensure they fill those seats on Capitol Hill with representatives who will deliver. Only by turning political talk into political action can the American people make clear that they will no longer tolerate political complacency from their elected officials.

There is no doubt immigration has always been and continues to be a polarizing issue for some citizens and certainly among political elites. But the considerable widespread support for a DACA fix shows that this issue, specifically, is a policy around which a minority is arguing loudly, drowning out the voices of the majority. It’s up to leaders in office to decide if they’re willing to tune out the zealous cries of the few and listen instead to the vast majority of those they represent.



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