Editorial: Congress must seize the moment to provide legal status for Dreamers and TPS holders

Immigration rights activists with signs took part in a rally.
Immigration rights activists took part in a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago supporting legal status for Dreamers and people with temporary protected status because it is too dangerous for them to return to their home countries.
(Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

If there’s any issue on which most Democrats and Republicans can find common ground, it’s the notion that so-called Dreamers hold a unique position in our immigration battles, and that the government must create a path to legal status for them. What form that reprieve would take and how to get there, of course, are ripe for discussion, debate and compromise. But given the overwhelming support for the ends, there should be a way to find the means.

The Dreamers are noncitizens who have lived in the U.S. without permission after arriving as children, and who bear little if any responsibility for their illegal status. Because many have been raised and educated as Americans, it would be cruel, and self-defeating, to not let them pursue legal status and citizenship. President Obama sought to extend some protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but that is only a temporary reprieve and one that still faces legal challenges.

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The best approach would be to include a fix for the Dreamers as part of comprehensive immigration reform (which President Biden has proposed) that would modernize our legal framework for admitting new immigrants in ways that better reflect the needs and interests of contemporary American society.

Even though the current immigration system is broadly recognized as a failure, Congress seems more interested in using immigration as a wedge issue in elections than in actually fixing it. We haven’t given up hope that a grand bargain can be struck, but decades of failure do not bode well.

The Dreamers, though, shouldn’t be held hostage to political failure. Nor, for that matter, should recipients of temporary protected status — people who were in the U.S. at the moment a natural disaster, war or other sudden disruption made it too dangerous for them to return home.

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In fact, the Biden administration is extending TPS status to potentially tens of thousands of Venezuelans who were in the U.S. as that nation fell into political and economic crisis. That’s in keeping with previous administrations that granted temporary protections to certain noncitizens, but it also faces a design problem: Often the home country conditions do not improve, leading to extensions — sometimes for decades — and leaving the recipients unfairly stuck in limbo.

Now for the politics. With Democrats in charge of the House and in control of the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, and with a Democratic president, this may be a unique moment to finally push through legislation that would provide legal status for the Dreamers and for long-term TPS recipients. To that end, bills to give Dreamers and TPS recipients a path to citizenship have been introduced in both houses.

Polls show that a significant majority of Americans believe this is the right thing to, as do most members of Congress. We urge the nation’s elected leaders to show that they can, in fact, listen to the heartbeat of America and resolve the issue at long last.