WASHINGTON – Congress seems paralyzed by the immigration issue, but Western New York's two Republican members of Congress still aren't sure that's a permanent condition.
Reps. Tom Reed and Chris Collins both pushed for a legislative solution for the "Dreamers" – young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States by their parents – only to see that effort collapse amid every other congressional immigration proposal in recent weeks.
But both said this week that they aren't ready to give up.
"We need to fix this immigration issue in Congress," said Reed, who hails from Corning and represents much of the Southern Tier.
"Now, it is vital that Congress acts to end this crisis," said Collins, who lives in Clarence and represents a largely rural and suburban district between Buffalo and Rochester.
Both Reed and Collins were among a handful of Republicans who signed a "discharge petition" aimed at forcing a vote on a solution for the Dreamers. But House Speaker Paul Ryan short-circuited that effort by promising that the House would take up immigration legislation – only to see efforts to pass that legislation stymied by continuing congressional disagreement.
Nevertheless, both Reed and Collins credited the discharge petition with at least breathing some life into what had been a dormant issue.
"At least now we have done a tremendous amount of foundational work throughout the conference, discussing and potentially passing immigration reform that really does what I think there's a credible effort to get to consensus on: securing the border and also taking care of those Dreamer kids," Reed said.
Collins, meanwhile, said he's still hoping Congress will pass legislation that will close loopholes in current immigration law, end the "chain migration" that allows family members to follow those who have already immigrated to America, abolish the visa lottery and provide a solution for the Dreamers.
Both Republican lawmakers were reluctant to criticize President Trump for his now-reversed "zero tolerance" policy, which resulted in more than 2,300 immigrant children being separated from their parents after the families crossed into America illegally.
Reed said that by separating children from their parents, Trump was merely choosing to enforce a 1990s court settlement in a case called Flores v. Reno. Under that settlement, the federal government must keep immigrant children who are in custody in "the least restrictive conditions" and place them with a close family relative or friend if possible.
The Trump administration is the first, though, to interpret that legal settlement as a call for separating families.
Collins dodged a question on whether Trump was right to implement the "zero tolerance" policy, instead merely lauding the president for reversing that policy decision.
"President Trump has taken action to keep families together and uphold the rule of law," Collins said.
Democrats, predictably, were far more critical of the president – and far more doubtful on the prospects for immigration legislation.
Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, called the now-reversed zero tolerance policy "inhumane and callous." But he noted that it's the fault of Congress that there's no comprehensive solution to the immigration issue.
"Congress is not fulfilling its constitutional responsibility to make laws," Higgins said. "It lacks the political courage to do it."
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, suggested that President Trump appoint a "czar" to manage the reunification of immigrant families separated by the zero tolerance policy.
But he, too, said he remained doubtful that Congress could pass immigration legislation.
“Legislation might be a good thing, but we all know the path to legislation is fraught with peril – passing the House, passing the Senate, being signed by the president. That hasn’t happened in a while," Schumer noted.