By Andrew Soboeiro
As the debate over DACA continues, immigrants and their supporters have been eyeing Capitol Hill for new legislation. Little wonder, then, that a recent proposal by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Chris Coons (D-DE) received so much attention. Offering legal status for large numbers of Dreamers coupled with modest border security measures, this bill has already attracted broad bipartisan support, though it’s less likely that the president will sign it. While its future is uncertain, the bill offers hope that we may yet reach a truly bipartisan immigration solution.
The bill proposed by Coons and McCain focuses primarily on providing legal status to Dreamers, or those who entered the country as children. It offers status to all such individuals who have resided in the United States since 2013. This is an even larger group than the 1.8 million people whom Trump promised legal recognition in his State of the Union address. In extending protection to so many people, McCain and Coons may be motivated by a desire to address this issue once and for all, thereby freeing up Congress to focus on other priorities.
In addition to protecting Dreamers, the bill takes some modest border security precautions, though not the ones the president and other anti-immigration hardliners have called for. McCain and Coons propose improving “situation awareness and operational control of the border” with drones and other advanced technology. They also charge the Secretary of Homeland Security with developing a comprehensive plan to increase border security, which they must present to Congress within a year. The bill does not raise the $25 billion that Trump requested for his infamous “border wall” proposal. Nor does it modify the diversity visa program or limit family-based immigration.
Potential for Passage
The McCain-Coons bill closely resembles another bill in the House, which was proposed by Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) and Will Hurd (R-TX). The latter bill has already garnered widespread support, with 27 Democrats and 27 Republicans currently backing it. Such a large outpouring of support suggests that one of these bills has a serious chance of passing both Houses of Congress, providing a bipartisan solution to one of modern America’s most polarizing issues.
Just because this bill has a strong chance of passing Congress does not mean it will become law. Almost as soon as Coons and McCain proposed it, President Trump expressed his opposition, tweeting that “Any deal on DACA that does not include STRONG border security and the desperately needed WALL is a total waste of time.”
Even with bipartisan support, it’s questionable whether this bill could garner enough votes to overcome a presidential veto. Unless Trump decides to sign it, then, it is unlikely to become law. But it remains to be seen whether the president can be convinced to support this bill. It is possible that members of Congress or his own cabinet may try to win Trump over, eager to finally put the DACA issue to rest. Meanwhile, Coons and McCain may consider modifying the bill to incorporate more border security measures or limit visa programs.
The future of this bill is far from certain, and even if it passes, it likely won’t be in its current form. Nonetheless, the fact that it was even proposed seems a step in the right direction. That a Republican and a Democrat could come together in a highly polarized era and agree to protect Dreamers is a good sign, and suggests that our country may yet welcome these new Americans.