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Democrats rightly favor legal status for millions of the undocumented, especially the Dreamers and many of their parents (Mr. Trump favored this, then reneged). Congress should extend this status to other longtime-resident, law-abiding undocumented people. The easiest fix would legalize all long-term, continuously resident applicants who can show good moral character — easy because a statutory remedy dating to 1929 uses a very old eligibility cutoff; it cries out for updating to include those who arrived before, say, 2009.
The United States should also welcome many more new immigrants than the 1.1 million we now admit annually. Democrats should call for an end to the misbegotten “diversity lottery,” which eats up 50,000 precious visas each year, and instead use those visas for a pilot program for a points-based system like Canada’s (which proportionately admits many more immigrants than we do).
Democrats should call for a return to the norm for refugee admissions of roughly 75,000 to 85,000 a year, from the shamefully low 22,000 admitted per year under Mr. Trump. They should also support some conservatives’ proposals to modernize the larger system, such as reforming the clotted approval process for admitting temporary farmworkers and H-1Bs, and reassessing the troubled investor visa program.
Mr. Trump is determined to deny green cards to legal immigrants who use certain federal benefits. In opposing this, Democrats should be careful to draw defensible lines on welfare entitlements for newcomers, lines acceptable to most Americans who respect immigrants who strengthen our society and are as independent as their circumstances permit.
Rhetoric, then, is not enough, especially when it is simply a retort to the president’s latest outburst. Democrats must convince Americans of their ability to govern wisely in the face of unprecedented pressures on our immigration system. Clichés about America being a diverse nation of immigrants, while true, are not policies — and voters know the difference.
Peter H. Schuck, an emeritus professor of law at Yale and scholar-in-residence at New York University, is the author, most recently, of “One Nation Undecided: Clear Thinking About Five Hard Issues That Divide Us.”
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