When United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Tuesday the Trump administration’s plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), President Donald Trump effectively put the lives of nearly one million young, undocumented individuals up in the air. Now that Trump has made the decision to disband DACA in six months, it is up to Congress to ensure the lives of these DREAMers won’t be upended once their permits expire.
Without action from Congress or Trump, nearly 300,000 people could start losing their status in 2018, and later, more than 320,000 from January to August 2019.
Congress could pass a standalone bill to address DACA specifically, but the White House has made it clear that they want “comprehensive reform,” as White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during the Tuesday briefing, after dodging a question about whether the president would sign a bill that addresses DACA specifically. In a tweet late Tuesday, President Trump appeared to reaffirm that by not making any mention of DACA.
I look forward to working w/ D's + R's in Congress to address immigration reform in a way that puts hardworking citizens of our country 1st.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2017
Later, he pivoted to more insecurity, suggesting that if Congress comes to a stalemate, he would “revisit the issue,” adding more uncertainty and anxiety to a group of individuals who are American in every way but on paper.
Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017
If Congress really wants to help DREAMers, there are several pieces of legislation currently floating around Congress that are gaining traction in the wake of Trump’s DACA rescission.
The Recognizing America’s Children Act (RAC Act)
Introduced in March and sponsored by Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), the RAC Act essentially takes a lot of what was in DACA, but also creates a path to legal status and eventually, citizenship.
The bill provides immigrants vetted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with three paths towards gaining legal status: pursuing higher education, military service, or work authorization. Following a five-year conditional status, immigrants would be able to reapply for a five-year permanent status. After 10 years, they can apply for citizenship.
“These are America’s children, and that is why I’m proud to lead this group of representatives from all over the country to introduce legislation to simply recognize them as such and provide them an earned path to legal status,” wrote Curbelo in a press release. “I hope Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate can get behind this legislation and that it can soon be sent to the President’s desk for his signature.”
The bill has received a fair amount of attention and support, with Mike Coffman (R-CO), Jeff Denham (R-CA), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Mark Amodei (R-FL), Fred Upton (R-FL), David Reichert (R-FL) and David G. Valadao (R-FL) all signing on as co-sponsors.
The bipartisan sponsors of the bill, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), held a press conference Tuesday shortly after Session’s announcement. In it, they urged action on their last version of the DREAM Act by the end of September.
“The reason I think it will get done now is that the leadership of the Republican Party, including the president, realizes it’s good for the country economically and otherwise to give these kids the certainty they need in their lives,” Graham said Tuesday.
The DREAM Act goes even further than DACA, also providing a path to citizenship for those eligible after at least 13 years. Qualifications for permanent status under the DREAM Act include: living in the United States continuously for at least four years before the start date of the DREAM Act, enrolling in a secondary education program or higher learning institution, and passing a medical and background check.
This iteration of the DREAM Act received rare support from Republicans like Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who has previously never supported any version of the DREAM Act.
Unfortunately for Graham and Durbin, however, the White House signaled in July that it wouldn’t support the legislation. Marc Short, White House Director of Legislative Affairs, said the administration has “opposed the DREAM Act and likely will be consistent on that.”
Spearheaded by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), the Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream and Grow our Economy Act (BRIDGE) doesn’t include a path to citizenship, but rather codifies the current DACA law and extend it for three years, which would allow Congress more time to come up with a comprehensive immigration overhaul for the long-term.
Coffman filed a discharge petition that would force his bill to get to the House floor for a vote, circumventing party leaders.
“I see the discharge petition as a way to bring legislation to the floor should Republican leadership fail to allow a floor vote on a bill to protect these young people,” Coffman said Tuesday.
Introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) in July, the American Hope Act of 2017 has the support of 116 Democratic cosponsors in addition to support from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
The bill would create conditional permanent resident status that is valid up to eight years for those who qualify. After three years, they can apply for lawful permanent residence status. At a total of 5 years, it is the legislation that provides the quickest path to citizenship.
Additionally, the Hope Act allows DREAMers with conditional permanent resident status to apply for federal education grants, work-study programs, and student loans.
This legislation, however, would require significant support from Republicans, who already have immigration bills of their own floating around Congress.