While President Donald Trump continues to threaten to close the U.S.-Mexico border, Senate Democrats are introducing legislation that gives certain undocumented immigrants the opportunity to get paid internships on Capitol Hill.
The bill, called the American Dream Employment Act, would amend current law that allows only U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents to work in the Senate and House of Representatives. The bill, spearheaded by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Dick Durbin (D-IL), would allow undocumented youth enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to work in paid positions on the Hill. Under current law, undocumented youth are allowed to intern with Congressional offices, they just can’t get paid for it.
DACA recipients — also known as “Dreamers,” based on never-passed proposals in Congress that would have given them legal status — have worked on the Hill for years, usually in fellowships funded by third parties or in unpaid voluntary positions. This bill would ensure Dreamers are able to work for a lawmaker full-time and get paid by the U.S. government for it.
A sister bill was introduced in the House last year by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ). At present, it has 57 co-sponsors. All but one, Rep. Jenniffer González Colón of Puerto Rico, are Democrats.
“Congress prides itself on recruiting the best talent to craft policies that address America’s greatest challenges. Yet, we’ve created obstacles that keep some of our brightest young minds from fully contributing to our country. The American Dream Employment Act would expand Congress’ talent pool, give Dreamers a seat at the table, and strengthen policymaking for all Americans,” said Cortez Masto (D-NV) in a statement.
Durbin, a longtime advocate for Dreamers, said in a statement, “I’ve been proud to have several Dreamers work in my office as volunteer interns and have seen firsthand how the people of Illinois would benefit if Dreamers could serve as paid employees in my office.”
Dreamers have been suspended in a legal limbo ever since the Trump administration terminated the program in 2017. Court decisions have so far kept the program in place, but no new applications are being accepted. There is also currently no permanent solution for undocumented youth living, working, and studying in the United States. Democrats in the House and Senate last month introduced the Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers and recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).
For Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants and a 2020 presidential contender, the bill underscores just how important the Latinx and immigrant communities will be in her campaign.
“The giant sign outside my office says ‘DREAMers Welcome Here’ because we know and value the contributions that these young people have made to their communities,” Harris said in a statement announcing the legislation. “But right now, those same young people are banned from giving back to their country by working for Congress. That has to change.”
The California senator has already made campaign stops in Latinx-heavy Texas and Nevada, and at her campaign kickoff rally in Oakland, California, Harris slammed the Trump administration for “[blaming] immigrants as the source of all our problems.” She said she would “treat attacks on… immigrants rights as attacks on our own country itself.”
In her State of the Union pre-buttal, Harris opposed the president’s border wall, saying, “The strength of our union has never been found in the walls we build. It’s in our diversity and our unity – and that is our power.” She has said she does not support tearing down existing border walls, however.