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Don't just build a wall. Build a BRIDGE, too

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This is good policy that buys Congress time to work on a longer-term fix while securing the border. (AP Photo/Elliot Spagat)

No matter how many protests are held this week over President Donald Trump's decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the DACA initiative is done.

It isn't relevant any longer what should or should not be done about the program, nor whether the president made the right call. The question now becomes, what do we do next?

Congressman Mike Coffman, R-Colo., has taken leadership in the House – joined on the Senate side by Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., – by recently introducing the BRIDGE Act. And Coffman has filed a discharge petition to force a floor vote.

The BRIDGE Act would essentially extend DACA for three years by allowing those who are eligible for or who have received work authorization and temporary deferment from deportation through DACA to remain in the U.S. with permission. The idea is billed as a temporary legislative fix while Congress develops a more permanent solution for the issue.

The BRIDGE Act is not the same as the Dream Act. The latter would have permitted some immigrants who came to this country illegally as children to get temporary legal status, later apply for permanent legal status and ultimately obtain U.S. citizenship. The BRIDGE Act, on the other hand, simply extends DACA's provisions through congressional authorization.

There are nearly 800,000 beneficiaries of the DACA program in the United States today. They have had to meet certain standards – such as residing in the country prior to June 15, 2012, moving here prior to their 16th birthday, living continuously in the U.S. since June 15, 2007 and being in or graduated from high school or college – which would be continued under the BRIDGE Act.

It is important to emphasize one other requirement under DACA that BRIDGE would carry over. They will be thrown out if they are convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor or three or more misdemeanors, or they have been deemed a threat to national security or public safety. In other words, they have no choice but to go to school, follow the law and play by the rules. The provisions essentially direct these young people to be upstanding community citizens.

We must also recognize that these are young people who came to this country as children or overstayed their visas, through no fault of their own, and deportation would in effect inflict punishment upon them for the sins of their parents.

Given these facts, it appears entirely rational, justifiable and moral for Congress to pass the BRIDGE Act to legislatively affirm DACA while providing adequate time for a meaningful and sustainable legislative fix. DACA is set to officially terminate effective on March 5, 2018. Because Congress may want to include permanent legal status for these young people as part of a larger immigration reform package, the BRIDGE Act offers more than six months' time to work out such an arrangement.

It is essential that the debate over BRIDGE be clearly defined within the appropriate parameters. We're not talking about amnesty here – we're talking about offering temporary and limited legal status to the children of illegal immigrants. The debate over full amnesty will come later, in subsequent legislation.

Trump should announce his support for a BRIDGE Act that includes full funding for his border security agenda. Some will counter, as a recent CNN panel suggested, that this is "a ransom holding 800,000 young people hostage," but in reality, it is a healthy compromise that recognizes reality. If we allow illegal immigrants to remain without taking steps to cut off the spigot, we will only encourage more illegal immigration.

There is a way to achieve the best of both worlds. Let's build a BRIDGE and a wall, simultaneously. This is good policy that buys Congress time to work on a longer-term fix while securing the border.

Jimmy Sengenberger is President and CEO of the Millennial Policy Center, a public policy think tank based in Denver, Colorado, and a radio host on KDMT and KNUS in Denver, Colorado. His opinion does not necessarily reflect that of the Millennial Policy Center.

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