Nearly an hour into his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden made brief mention of immigration reform by calling on Congress to “come together” and make it “a bipartisan issue like it was before.” He was met immediately with jeers and shouts of “secure the border” from Republicans in the chamber.
This brief exchange, buried deep into a lengthy speech, is evidence of the daunting challenge facing Washington on an issue that has divided Americans for more than a generation. Yet, like many of our most contentious issues, immigration is also among our most important. Congress has an opportunity and an obligation to make it a priority in this legislative session.
Immigration touches virtually every aspect of American life — our economy, our security, our culture, even our national identity. Both of us, coming from opposite political parties, understand the intense feelings our respective sides have on this issue. But we also understand that most Americans aren’t as far apart as the media lead them to believe.
A No Labels/HarrisX poll from December revealed several patches of common ground that can serve as a starting place for compromise on immigration.
First, 77 percent of registered voters want stronger measures to control the U.S. border. It’s no wonder why. Last year, there were a record 2.3 million migrant encounters at the southern border, including nearly 600,000 that escaped into our country.
While most of these migrants are seeking work and a better life, others are engaged in human trafficking, violent crime and drug smuggling — enough to make illegal immigration a security crisis. In his address, Biden revealed that border personnel arrested 8,000 human smugglers and seized more than 23,000 pounds of fentanyl in just the past few months. That’s enough fentanyl to kill every single American.
In addition to border security, voters agree on the importance of immigration to our economy, with 74 percent stating that we should place a greater preference on immigrants who can contribute to our economy than on those with family in America. Here again, it’s easy to see why. The United States has two open jobs for every one person looking for work. This worker shortage is strangling our growth, contributing to inflation and compounding our deficits and debt.
Poll after poll shows broad bipartisan support for providing permanent legal status to the 3 million Dreamers, or people brought to the this country illegally as children. America is the only home they remember, but they have been in legal limbo for their entire adult lives, forced to contend with the constant threat of deportation.
Between these common-sense solutions, there exists a pathway for compromise between the parties. Some leaders are already working on it. Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent caucusing with Democrats, are in talks to build a bipartisan immigration bill that would marry increased border security with a path to citizenship for Dreamers.
Of all the immigration ideas tested in the No Labels/HarrisX poll, the combination of these two solutions tested highest, with 78 percent expressing support for the compromise. But as we have learned countless times before, dysfunction in Washington can prevent even the biggest no-brainers from becoming law. Previous bipartisan immigration bills in 2007 and 2013 fell victim to infighting and bad faith arguments.
This time must be different. To pass bipartisan immigration reform, we need leaders to award the issue priority status. Giving it passing mention deep in a lengthy policy address is not the start we need.
We understand that passions are high on this issue across the spectrum, but that doesn’t mean Americans are far apart on every immigration idea, nor should it dissuade our leaders from seeking a compromise. Instead, the passions are a call to action from the American people to their leaders. Time will tell if Washington is listening.
Pat McCrory is the former governor of North Carolina and a member of No Labels. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is the national co-chair of No Labels.