While President Trump has made it clear that his administration is terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), the White House also signaled that it is Congress that should offer a legislative solution to stabilize the status of approximately 800,000 so-called "DREAMers," who entered the country illegally as minors and now face the prospect of deportation. Currently, there are several bills being contemplated by members of Congress, some of which have bipartisan support.
DACA was put into place by Barack Obama by executive order in 2012 when Congress did not pass comprehensive immigration reform or a bill that would have provided protections to immigrants who came here illegally as children and have no criminal record. Controlling immigration and border security were among the hallmarks of Trump’s presidential campaign, just as was Trump’s criticisms of failures by Congress and previous administrations to resolve those issues. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump wants "comprehensive reform" but would not say whether the president would sign a bill addressed only to DREAMers. She said that Trump will not allow “emotion to govern” his decisions.
In a message to stakeholders, the Department of Homeland Security was quite blunt on Tuesday in its message to current DACA beneficiaries. Among the 12 bullet points on the program, the tenth had blunt advice:
“The Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States — including proactively seeking travel documentation — or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.”
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
In a Tuesday tweet, Trump wrote that he is seeking immigration reform but did not mention DACA specifically. He wrote: “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 first.” Also on Tuesday, Trump described to reporters his sentiments about immigration reform. “I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly, and I can tell you, speaking to members of Congress, they want to be able to do something and do it right." Trump added, "And really we have no choice, we have to be able to do something, and I think it's going to work out very well, and long-term it's going to be the right solution."
Later, Trump tweeted, “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!”
Congress, get ready to do your job - DACA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2017
Here are some top bills that address DREAMers:
1) Dream Act, sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The two senators said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference that they are pushing for action on the latest version of the Dream Act, which has been circulating in Congress for years. Durbin severely criticized Trump's decision, but Graham said it was the right decision because he believes Obama had usurped legislative authority by enacting DACA. Graham said Congress will take action, saying: "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."
The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) noted that the Dream Act has many of the same protections in place as DACA does, and also creates a road to citizenship or permanent legal resident status if applicants meet certain requirements, which DACA did not. To obtain permanent status, the Dream Act provides that applicants must have lived in the US for a certain length of time and meet educational, work, or military service requirements. It would take at least 13 years for those eligible to achieve citizenship.
The White House opposes the bill. When Durbin and Graham announced it in July, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said, "I think that the administration has opposed the Dream Act and likely will be consistent on that."
2) Recognizing America's Children (RAC) Act, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla. Introduced in March, Curbelo’s bill codifies much of DACA and also provides a road to permanent legal status and citizenship. When the bill was introduced, Curbelo issued a statment saying, "The bill provides immigrants that have been vetted by The Department of Homeland Security with three pathways toward legalization: higher education, service in the armed forces, or work authorization. Following a 5-year conditional status, these immigrants would be able to re-apply for a 5-year permanent status." Curbelo’s bill, according to NILC, would allow beneficiaries to apply for citizenship after a total of 10 years.
Speaking on CNN’s New Day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions made his DACA announcement, Curbelo said, "These are young people that went to school with our own children, they are working in this country, they are contributing to this country, they speak English” Curbelo said "This is the only country that many of them remember. So we should afford them — as long as they're willing to be productive members of society, which most of them are — we should afford them the opportunity to be fully recognized as Americans and to gain legal status in this country."
3) Hope Act, sponsored by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill, was introduced in July and has the support of the Democrat-dominated Congressional Hispanic Caucus. In addition, 112 Democrats already had signed on to co-sponsor his legislation. If passed, applicants must have entered the U.S. before age 18 to be eligible. It does not include any work, education or military requirements, but does reject applicants who have been convicted of certain crimes, according to the NILC. The bill also offers an express route to US citizenship. Eligible persons may apply for conditional permanent residency that valid for up to eight years, and after three years apply for permanent residence status. After a total of five years, applicants can apply for American citizenship.
"DACA is under threat, and we know that President Trump and the attorney general, if he is still in office, will not lift a finger to defend DACA," Gutierrez said in July. "This will replace the order in the lives of these young people with chaos. It will replace the hope they have for their futures with despair. It substitutes cruelty for their aspirations and the aspirations of our entire immigrant population. All of us here support DACA. We fought for DACA and we will defend DACA. And the defense includes putting on the table legislation that charts a way forward."
4) BRIDGE Act, sponsored by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo. Over the September 2-3 weekend, Coffman announced he planned to file a discharge petition to get his bill to the House floor. Infrequently used, a discharge petition requires a simple majority of signatories to circumvent party leaders and bring the bill to the floor for a vote by the full House. The Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act was introduced in January and would codify the Obama’s DACA program into law and extend it for three years. Congress would then have more time to devise comprehensive immigration reform.
However, the BRIDGE Act does not offer a path to citizenship. On Monday, Coffman told The Denver Channel, "The members of Congress have a choice: They can let the program be phased out and these young people be subject to deportation, or they can sign this petition for the Bridge Act." Coffman added, “The federal government knows where they are, so if there are deportation proceedings, they could be expedited."
Coffman and Curbelo are both facing a tough reelection campaign in 2018, While Coffman serves a district that Hillary Clinton won by 9 points, Curbelo’s Latino-majority district went for Clinton by 16 points in November.