DON’T BE THE GANG OF EIGHT: Here Is How Congress Can Finally Pass Immigration Reform

Gang of Eight immigration reform Getty Image/Alex Wong

Cesar Conda Contributor
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This week, the Senate will consider legislation to address the status of hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to this country as children of illegal immigrants — the so-called “Dreamers.” It will be the first major immigration bill considered by the Senate since the “Gang of Eight” bill in 2013 which would have strengthened border security, modernized the legal immigration system, and created a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Back then, I was the chief of staff for Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), one of four Senate Republicans involved in crafting the bipartisan compromise. As President Trump and the Congress begin crafting a solution for the 800,000 Dreamers previously protected from deportation by President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), they should consider the following lessons from the Gang of Eight experience:

First, the simpler and more streamlined the immigration bill is, the better the chance of getting it through both houses of Congress and signed into law. The 2013 bill not only addressed the status of the 11 million illegal immigrants and border security, but also included the entire kitchen sink of immigration issues including low- and high skilled workers, refugees, agricultural workers, diversity visas and family-based and merit-based immigration. The bill ended up totaling 544 pages, which in and of itself became a source of criticism. Each page seemingly created a new target for attack, many of which were outright falsehoods (such as the “Amnesty Phone” myth).

Moreover, in this tense political climate, Democrats and Republicans are having a hard enough time trading “x” for “y” issue, and it’s infinitely harder to structure a deal that gets you “a + b + c” in exchange for “x + y + z.” Both sides should remember they don’t have to get everything they want this time around. There will be other opportunities to address immigration‎, and other deals to make in the future. It’s Washington; there always are.

Second, the House of Representatives must pass its own immigration bill — and preferably before the Senate does. In the summer of 2013, the Senate approved comprehensive immigration reform by a bipartisan vote of 68 to 32. But the House did not have a parallel and concurrent legislative effort, with a bill introduced, Committee hearings and mark-up, and so on. As a result, it was easy for House Republicans, who did not have any buy-in, to criticize the Senate bill and ultimately do nothing to address the immigration problem.

That is why it’s crucial for House Speaker Paul Ryan to follow Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s lead by bringing an immigration bill to the House floor. Each body should pass a bill and go to a Conference Committee. Tax Reform at the end of last year proved that Conference Committees can still be productive.

Third, presidential leadership is essential in this hyper-partisan political climate. President Donald Trump must make the consistent public case for providing certainty for the Dreamers while securing our border once and for all. For the strongest chance at success, he must speak clearly about what he is willing to sign and not move the goal posts.

Most importantly, he should remind Congressional Republicans that the public and more importantly, the Republican base are strongly behind them: Two-thirds of Republicans back a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, according to recent Harvard-Harris poll. More significantly, Trump voters support accommodating the Dreamers: An April 2017 Morning Consult poll found 73% of Trump voters said “Dreamers” should be allowed to stay in the United States and become legal residents, with 48% saying they should be able to become American citizens.

Fixing DACA is President Trump’s opportunity to cement his legacy as someone who solves difficult problems other presidents of both parties could not. Making progress on top immigration reform security priorities like the border wall while providing for the permanent certainty that Dreamers deserve is something President Obama couldn’t achieve when the Democrats controlled Washington. But in my view, going for a streamlined compromise on DACA offers the greatest hope of getting something over the finish line that has vexed leaders in both parties for years.

Cesar Conda has served as domestic policy chief adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and as Marco Rubio’s chief of staff.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.