Trump, GOP should keep DACA but scrap birthright citizenship

Tuesday, President Trump is expected to announce whether or not he will ax the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals aka “DACA” program. House Speaker Paul Ryan wants him to delay the decision, and give Congress time to address the future of President Obama’s executive order through legislation. Apparently Mr. Trump may choose to do just that.

Seriously? The same divided GOP caucus that failed to repeal and replace ObamaCare after seven years of squawking about it will now resolve our nation’s thorny immigration problems in just a matter of months? Unlikely.

More likely, given the recent history, Republicans in Congress would be cowed by the liberal media into swallowing whole the program that allowed an estimated 800,000 immigrants who entered the country illegally to stay and to acquire permanent status.

If Trump does turn the matter over to his wobbly Republican colleagues, he must demand they cut a deal: agree to grant the “Dreamers” permanent status in the U.S. in exchange for abolishing birthright citizenship. That single change could forever reduce the allure of sneaking into the U.S.

If Trump does turn the DACA matter over to his wobbly Republican colleagues, he must demand they cut a deal: agree to grant the “Dreamers” permanent status in the U.S. in exchange for abolishing birthright citizenship. That single change could forever reduce the allure of sneaking into the U.S.

Our country and Canada are the lone developed nations that still promise citizenship to anyone born on U.S. or Canadian soil. President Trump says the antiquated policy, drawn from the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, remains “the biggest magnet for illegal immigration” and he is correct. The parents of those Dreamers risked everything to come to the U.S. for jobs and security, but also knowing that any future children would automatically become American citizens.

Pew research estimates that about 275,000 children were born to undocumented persons in 2014 (the latest year available. That’s about 7 percent of all births.

In that year, again according to Pew, some 4.7 million U.S.- born children under the age of 18 were living with unauthorized parents. That large and growing number reflects the impact of granting citizenship to anyone born in the U.S., regardless of their status.

Not only does birthright citizenship encourage illegal immigration, it also promotes a robust birth tourism industry which attracts people from all over the world, and especially from politically volatile countries like China and Russia. Women come to give birth in the U.S. and then return home, having earned their offspring a safety-net passport worth a fortune in free food, health care, education and retirement benefits.

Once those youngsters turn 18 they may bring a spouse into the country and at the age of 21 they may sponsor other relatives including siblings, minor children and parents. Approximately two-thirds of our immigration is family-based; a good portion of it stems from people coming into the U.S. without papers. This makes a mockery of those waiting in line to enter the country legally.

The DACA program is popular with the public; a recent NBC survey found 64 percent of respondents in favor of DACA, with only 30 percent opposed. Many are swayed by the terms of DACA, which singled out people who came to the U.S. as children, and who have met certain standards of good behavior such as graduating from high school and not getting into trouble. Deporting such individuals seems heartless; even President Trump, who has generally taken a hard line against illegal immigration, appears sympathetic.  

But good-hearted Americans also back changing our immigration system to one which prioritizes people who can contribute to the country. A Morning Consult/Politico poll of nearly 2,000 registered voters conducted early last month revealed that 61 percent support a “points” system based on attributes like education and job prospects.

President Trump has endorsed just such an approach, which has been proposed by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue. Their bill, called the RAISE Act, would mimic the merit-based system used by Australia, reducing the so-called “chain migration” of family members entering the country.

There is zero chance Democrats will sign onto the RAISE Act, and even many moderate Republicans like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham have denounced it. But Democrats are fervent in their support for the DACA, one of the few ways President Obama rewarded Hispanics for their overwhelming support in two elections. They are hopeful that those 800,000 Dreamers will eventually become citizens and also loyal Democrats.

Republicans should use that enthusiasm to their benefit, and begin the overhaul of our broken immigration system by negotiating an end to birthright citizenship. Many legal experts suggest that a clarification of the language in the 14th Amendment would suffice to change the policy, avoiding the two-thirds vote necessary to changing the Constitution itself. The language in the Constitution is ambiguous; just as numerous bills in Congress have defined the limits and protections of the 2nd Amendment, so could legislation narrow the scope of the Fourteenth.

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), among others, once proposed a measure to do just that. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Reid introduced the Immigration Stabilization Act of 1993, a bill that “clarified” the Fourteenth Amendment by pronouncing that kids born to illegal immigrants in the U.S. would not be entitled to automatic citizenship. At the time, Reid explained that his bill would abolish the "incentive for pregnant alien women to enter the United States illegally, often at risk to mother and child, for the purpose of acquiring citizenship for the child and accompanying federal financial benefits."

Now that the Hispanic vote is viewed as critical to Democrats’ fortunes, Harry Reid and his party have embraced birthright citizenship. But, Americans don’t like the policy and would likely back a GOP deal to scrap it.

After the dismal failure to repeal and replace ObamaCare, Republicans in Congress need to show some backbone. They could start here.