Saving immigration’s sinking ship

DACA is dead. Of course, you already knew this.

It was last year that President Trump terminated the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The Obama-era executive action gave Dreamers a two-year work permit and temporary deferment from deportation in exchange for recipients giving over all their personal information.

Now an administration that has — in an unrelated story — shown it has no moral qualms about separating immigrant families has its hands on the names, photos, fingerprints and home addresses of about 700,000 undocumented young people who were desperate enough to take Obama’s deal.

But just because you knew that DACA was dead doesn’t mean you also know that — in a recent development — so are, in all likelihood, Congressional efforts to rescue DACA recipients from possible deportation by authorities.

Even by the standards of the high-octane Trump era — where reporters juggle a dozen breaking stories at once, and the rest of us feel as if we’re standing in front of a fire hydrant that is spewing out information — the last couple of weeks have produced so much news that it’s impossible to catch everything.

One thing you might have missed is that, in the final days of June, House Republicans failed — for the second time in the span of a few months — to pass an immigration reform bill. The first piece of failed legislation was a strict enforcement bill.

The second bill was a compromise pushed by moderates. Among other things, it would have tossed a life preserver to DACA recipients — permanent legal status and eventual U.S. citizenship. Not only that. The bill also gave the same deal to another 900,000 Dreamers who didn’t apply for DACA.

In return, immigration hawks would have received three things they claimed they wanted — $25 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, an end to the diversity lottery, and an end to so-called chain migration.

Both bills failed with no support from Democrats, who talk a good game about helping Dreamers but have trouble following through. Those on the Left rather have a wedge issue than a workable solution. They also dread being labeled the “amnesty party” for those who would attach that word to any attempt to regularize the status of Dreamers.

Meanwhile, Republicans were divided — between moderates and hardliners. Neither camp was much in the mood to support the other’s bill, so nothing got passed.

The fact that Congress blew not one but two chances to save the Dreamers from possible deportation puts a dark cloud over both political parties. On this issue, they’re either corrupt, dishonest or woefully incompetent. Take your pick.

 But this cloud could have a silver lining.

The fact that there no lifeboats gives us the chance to stop to boat from sinking in the first place — and thus save many more people. This includes a very deserving group of undocumented immigrants that always seems to be overlooked, underserved and left out by both the media and the politicians whenever the subject of the Dreamers comes up: their parents, friends, and siblings who don’t go to college.

You see, the original Dream Act — introduced in the Senate in 2001, and on which so many of today’s proposals are based — may have meant well. But it was always an elitist piece of legislation, bestowing the benefit of legal status only on those undocumented immigrants that senators might it easiest to relate to: young people who enroll in college or join the military.

Immigration advocates took it because there was nothing else on the table, but the idea came at a significant psychological cost. After initially going along with all the attention, Dreamers began to feel a kind of survivor’s guilt for being saved while their parents were left in legal purgatory.

In 2012, DACA came along and made the guilt trip even worse. And for what? A half-measure program that required that young people essentially turn themselves into authorities before they could get even a temporary reprieve.

Somewhere along the line, Americans went way off course in attempting to find a special accommodation for Dreamers. Handed a crumb, they defended it as if it were a steak dinner.

The death of DACA, along with multiple recent attempts to revive it, give us a chance to refocus, get back on track, and work toward something fairer and much more worthwhile: comprehensive immigration reform on a broad scale, one steeped in compassion and not limited to what some elements of society consider the best and the brightest.

In the immigration dialogue, terms like “best” and “brightest” are not easy to define. What passes for “skilled” work is a matter of debate; it doesn’t come down to education.

So let’s make the most of this chance. Enough dreaming. Let’s get to work.

Ruben Navarrette, a contributing editor to Angelus News, is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a Daily Beast columnist, author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano,” and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.”