Alfonse D'Amato

Build the wall, and leave a door


Thank goodness for the recent Congressional action averting an extended federal government shutdown. It looks like enough moderate Republican and Democratic lawmakers may have finally reached a critical mass to actually get some things done in Washington.

On a recent visit there, I had the chance to talk with two of these centrists, Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Susan Collins, of Maine, about the current state of affairs in the nation’s capital, and they both shared their frustration with the dysfunction and failure to address key issues. They, along with several middle-of-the-road Democrats like Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, are beginning to stake out a promising governing coalition.

The next test of this coalition will be on the emerging immigration bill. This issue has festered for too long, holding up needed improvements in border security and leaving too many people and businesses in limbo. The compromise being shaped right now aims to balance these interests. It closely follows a proposal made to the White House by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer during the government funding negotiations. The measure would take needed steps to shore up our southern border, including starting to build that wall President Trump has promised, along with other steps to stem illegal immigration and the flow of illicit drugs into the U.S.

In exchange for these needed enhancements to border security, the legislation would offer a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million illegals currently living here, including the so-called “Dreamers” who were brought here as children. That’s what Democrats have clamored for, and they should now learn to say yes to a deal that can pass and be signed into law.

Other proposed provisions of a compromise bill would address the way extended family members can enter the country, tightening up on “chain migration” to curb excesses in the system. It could also bring U.S. immigration policy closer into line with our neighbor Canada, which puts more emphasis on bringing needed, trained workers into the country rather than just low-skilled, low-wage workers who compete with American workers.

And importantly, this legislation could address a serious problem facing many American businesses. Each year, thousands of foreign workers enter the U.S. legally to fill jobs in businesses facing severe labor shortages. Right here in New York, businesses ranging from agriculture to the hospitality industry scramble every year to bring in enough workers to meet their seasonal hiring needs. These are jobs from Montauk to Buffalo that will go unfilled unless U.S. immigration law continues an orderly process to bring in the needed workers. In a word, Congress should move to build the wall but leave a door for legal immigration.

If Congress and the president can finally make progress on the thorny issue of immigration policy, maybe they can turn to other important issues like funding a major national infrastructure program made possible by the recent federal tax reform bill. Over the next few years, U.S. corporations will be “repatriating” trillions of dollars to the U.S. A good share of this money could be used to help underwrite badly needed improvements to our roads, bridges and airports. But Congress and the Trump administration need to hammer out a workable program to facilitate this rebuilding effort. And that will again require that our leaders work across the aisle and not get hung up on petty partisan politics.

If the U.S. continues to do the things that help our economy grow, including holding the line on taxes, spending and regulation, the country could finally see greater prosperity spreading to hardworking middle-class families that have been left behind for too long. Last week, Home Depot joined other companies like Walmart in announcing $1,000 bonuses for its hourly workers. That’s real money in the pockets of men and women who’ll spend it and help the economy grow even more, and another good sign that 2018 should be a very good year.

Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column?