“I call my philosophy and approach compassionate conservatism. It is compassionate to actively help our fellow citizens in need. It is conservative to insist on responsibility and results. And with this hopeful approach, we will make a real difference in people’s lives.” – President George W. Bush.
When the Trump Administration announced its plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Attorney General Jeff Sessions – a frequent DACA critic during his time in the U.S. Senate – asserted that the move was necessary to protect the “rule of law in America,” adding that the Obama-era directive was an unconstitutional overreach by the executive branch. Respecting the “rule of law” was also a common theme among Arkansas elected officials who applauded the decision, arguing that the DACA directive which de-prioritized immigration enforcement based on certain criteria had overstepped President Obama’s legal authority.
This focus on “rule of law” as the determining reason for ending DACA, while legitimate, would appear to some to be a cold and unsympathetic position as it places an estimated 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children (including roughly 6,000 to 10,000 in Arkansas), into further legal limbo. Had the Trump Administration chosen to end the DACA program completely, and immediately begin deporting DACA enrollees, that would be the case.
This group, commonly referred to as DREAMers, arrived in the United States illegally at no fault of their own. In fact, according to the Brookings Institution, the “most common age at arrival was eight, however almost one-third (31%) were five or younger and more than two-thirds (69%) were 10 or younger when they arrived.” Apart from their place of birth, DREAMers embody what it means to be American in nearly every way. They attend school, serve in our armed forces, contribute to our society, and pose no threats to our national security or public safety. Many of them have never known another country, and have no reasonable place to return to should they be sent “home.”
To his credit, President Trump recognized the difficult and unfair predicament that DREAMers face and as part of the order to end DACA gave Congress a six-month window to address the issue legislatively, before halting renewal applications by those currently receiving a deferment. Many of the Arkansas officials who agreed with the President’s move to suspend DACA, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, called on Congress to take that opportunity, while members of the Arkansas congressional delegation signaled their desire to reform our immigration system – an effort that could include a resolution for the DREAMer population, for which deportation is a harsh, unrealistic, and illogical solution.
While six months is an incredibly short amount of time to tackle a major issue like immigration reform, we’ve seen repeatedly in instances like averting a government shutdown, raising the debt ceiling, and avoiding fiscal cliffs, that Congress tends to work better – or in some respects only works – when a major deadline is looming. While a solution for the DREAMers will only practically occur as part of a more comprehensive reform effort, desire to solve the DREAMer issue by members on both sides of the aisle may be the much-needed spark to get immigration reform moving through Congress.
Taken together, action to help the DREAMers, along with reforms to our legal immigration system and needed border security and enforcement measures, gives Republicans in Congress the opportunity to embrace the “compassionate conservatism” made popular by former President George W. Bush, by actively helping those in need while insisting on responsibility and results.
In a 2002 speech on his compassionate conservative philosophy, Bush stated, “The measure of compassion is more than good intentions; it is good results. Sympathy is not enough. We need solutions in America, and we know where solutions are found. When schools are teaching, when families are strong, when neighbors look after their neighbors, when our people have the tools and the skills and the resources they need to improve their lives, there is no problem that cannot be solved in America.”
Or more simply put, saying we care about someone’s plight is not enough. To be truly compassionate, action is required. Finding workable, and sensible solutions to our dysfunctional immigration system, and specifically a Congressional solution to the DREAMer issue, is an opportunity to show America, and the world, how compassion and conservatism can work together. It’s a problem we can, and should, strive to solve.
Editor’s note: Robert Coon is a partner with Impact Management Group, a government relations and communications firm. Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics.