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Opinion

Editorial: Here’s a solution to the DACA crisis: Pass a Dream Act. And soon

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2017: Javier Ortega, 23, of Los Angeles, along with oth
Javier Ortega, 23, demonstrates against changes in DACA immigration policy at City Hall in Los Angeles on Sept. 5.
(Los Angeles Times)

President Trump’s decision to end protections for immigrants who have been living illegally in the country since they were children was heartless, cynical and counterproductive. But there is one simple way for the damage to be undone: Congress should acknowledge its obligations to the 800,000 young immigrants whose status has been put in peril and pass legislation restoring their protection.

These are people, after all, who came to the country as infants or children through no fault of their own but as a result of decisions made by their parents. These so-called Dreamers have been raised and educated here, and many know no other country or language. Those who received protection under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program had to show that they have no serious criminal past and that they are in school or have graduated or are serving or have served in the military. Why wouldn’t we want to have such people living and working in our country?

Obama sought to help them by executive order in 2012 only because Congress had consistently failed to reach agreement on a comprehensive reform for the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system — or even to pass the more limited Dream Act to protect this particular group of immigrants. Republicans complained bitterly at the time that Obama’s decision to bypass Congress usurped the authority of the legislative branch, but the reality is that Congress abandoned its own responsibility. If Republicans objected to Obama’s actions, well, the fix was as simple then as it is now: Exercise authority. Pass a bill. But they’re much more comfortable showboating than actually drafting, negotiating and approving legislation.

The California delegation — Democrats and Republicans alike — should be in the forefront of the battle to pass a Dream Act.
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Now they have a second chance. Instead of missing it again, they should enact a version of the Dream Act that offers a path to legalization for people who have lived illegally in the country since being brought here as children, have not had significant troubles with the law and meet other criteria indicating that they will become — in most cases, that they will remain — productive members of society.

The California delegation — Democrats and Republicans alike — should be in the forefront of this battle. After all, one out of every four participants in the DACA program is a Californian. With Trump stripping away their protections, their elected representatives should fight on their behalf. Los Angeles County alone has some 180,000 people eligible for DACA.

For instance, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) represents part of the immigrant-heavy Central Valley and should use his clout as the second-highest ranking House Republican to pressure House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to move legislation on this issue. McCarthy signaled interest in a tweet Tuesday saying, “It is Congress’ role and responsibility to make immigration law, and I believe this is an issue that Congress needs to address.” Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), Mimi Walters (R-Irvine), Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and David Valadao (R-Hanford) issued similar statements.

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We hope they mean it. If they’re not sure whether it’s politically to their advantage, they might want to recall the decade of damage the California GOP did to itself in 1994 when it supported Proposition 187, which would have denied public benefits to immigrants living in the country illegally.

The best solution, of course, would be for Congress to pass protections for Dreamers as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package that also addresses border security, reasonable immigration quotas and a path to legalization for the bulk of the 11 million immigrants living in the country without documentation. But partisanship and polarization make such broad but badly needed reforms unlikely at the moment.

That’s not a reason to sacrifice the Dreamers. During the eight months in which the Republicans have had near total control of the federal government, they have done little to show the nation that they know how to govern, let alone lead. Here’s a chance to put a thick and welcome mark on the positive side of the balance sheet. Pass a Dream Act now.

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