For ‘dream­ers,’ a glim­mer of hope

The pres­i­dent may be tilt­ing to­ward com­pas­sion for young un­doc­u­mented mi­grants.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - ED­I­TO­RI­ALS

AN EARLY test of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ca­pac­ity for mal­ice, or for con­struc­tive com­pas­sion, is its stance on “dream­ers” — un­doc­u­mented young im­mi­grants who were brought to the United States as chil­dren and who were granted a tem­po­rary re­prieve from the threat of de­por­ta­tion by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. On that score, in his ear­li­est days in of­fice, Mr. Trump is tilt­ing, maybe, to­ward com­pas­sion.

Hav­ing spent most of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign vow­ing to re­voke what he called an un­con­sti­tu­tional “amnesty” (which it isn’t, since dream­ers have been granted what amounts to a stay, not le­gal sta­tus), Mr. Trump switched gears af­ter the elec­tion, say­ing he would “work some­thing out” that would “make peo­ple happy and proud.” Now his spokesman, Sean Spicer, says the new pres­i­dent’s pri­or­ity for de­por­ta­tion is “peo­ple who have done harm to our coun­try,” not dream­ers, whom Mr. Trump would ap­proach “in a very hu­mane way.” In other words, the fo­cus will be on un­doc­u­mented crim­i­nals, the same sub-group of il­le­gal im­mi­grants tar­geted by Mr. Obama’s de­por­ta­tion pol­icy.

De­port­ing 750,000 dream­ers who reg­is­tered with the gov­ern­ment and re­ceived So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers and two-year work per­mits would not just be cruel; it would be eco­nom­i­cally self-de­feat­ing and po­lit­i­cally fool­ish. Af­ter all, this is a pop­u­la­tion that grew up and at­tended school in this coun­try; they are as promis­ing, hope­ful and cul­tur­ally Amer­i­can as their neigh­bors.

It is en­cour­ag­ing that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is edg­ing to­ward ac­knowl­edg­ing this. End­ing talk of de­por­ta­tion is a good start. But that alone will not bring a sense of se­cu­rity to dream­ers and an es­ti­mated 1 mil­lion oth­ers el­i­gi­ble for the same sta­tus — those who ar­rived in the United States by 2007 and be­fore their 16th birth­day and are now no older than 35. Mr. Trump’s prom­ise to “work some­thing out” would have to in­clude re­new­ing their two-year work per­mits and reg­is­ter­ing oth­ers who meet the cri­te­ria. Re­mov­ing those pro­tec­tions, or al­low­ing them to lapse, would force some 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple back into limbo, with no con­fi­dence they could con­tinue to work, study or travel.

The best path for­ward re­mains an over­haul of the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that would pro­vide longterm pro­tec­tions not only for dream­ers but also for most of the 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, the ma­jor­ity of whom have been in this coun­try for more than 15 years. With­out of­fer­ing de­tails, Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump’s White House chief of staff, al­lowed that he would also wel­come what he called “a long-term so­lu­tion” worked out with Congress.

That sounds like some­thing very dif­fer­ent from threats of mass de­por­ta­tion, with which Mr. Trump whipped up his cam­paign ral­lies. It holds out a glim­mer of hope that the new pres­i­dent’s elec­tionyear hy­per­bole on im­mi­gra­tion, at least as it per­tained to dream­ers, may yield to some­thing more re­sem­bling prag­ma­tism.

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