Just as Americans are coming together in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, a man-made storm is brewing and the designated first responders are members of Congress.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the same lawmakers who seem to view compromise as a threat to their livelihoods have six months to rescue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that applies to around 800,000 young people known as Dreamers who lack legal immigration status through no fault of their own.
President Obama established the DACA program by executive order in 2012 after Congress failed to address what many now consider a humanitarian issue. President Trump, who recently said he "loves" the Dreamers, wants Congress to find a legislative solution or he may revisit the issue later, which might be the best hope for Dreamers who could be deported to countries as foreign to them as to a rancher born and raised in Western South Dakota.
House Speaker Paul Ryan did offer them a sliver of hope Wednesday when he told reporters, "I think there's a serious humane issue here that needs to be dealt with." He added, however: "But it's only fitting and reasonable that we also deal with some of the root causes of this problem. We're going to work with our members to find out where that compromise is."
But compromise is not part of the vocabulary of Republican lawmakers like Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who criticized President Trump for not sending the Dreamers packing immediately.
South Dakota's Republican lawmakers — Sens. Thune and Rounds and Rep. Noem — have not yet taken a public stand on the issue even though approximately 500 state residents are Dreamers, which is disappointing but not unexpected.
The Dreamers can now expect to become a focal point of the immigration debate that helped Trump get elected president. But these young people who consider themselves Americans are not the criminals that Trump referred to when he declared he would build a border wall that Mexico would pay for someday.
In order to be a Dreamer, participants must have no criminal record, prove they were brought to the U.S. before age 16 and be under 31 years old when the program was launched. They also must renew their permit every two years. These are people who follow the rules, serve in the military, attend college, pay their taxes and work in professional careers. One of the heroes of Houston who died was a Dreamer who drove more than 100 miles to rescue Hurricane Harvey victims.
Among those who support the program are 400 business leaders who asked President Trump to preserve the program. According to a recent report from the Center of American Progress, 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies employ Dreamers. Religious leaders, law enforcement officials, judges and Republican senators like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina support the program.
Three things are clear moving ahead if Congress fails to preserve the program in a timely manner or at all: the issue will further divide our country along racial lines; our illegal immigration problems will continue to exist; and opponents of reform will be galvanized and millions of Hispanic voters and others will be energized for the upcoming mid-term elections and beyond.
However, this shouldn't be a debate only about immigration policy. The Dreamers are real people with families here who deserve better from the place we like to call the greatest country in the world. Congress needs to put people ahead of politics this time.