September 05, 2017

What Dreamers May Come

President Trump has said he’ll end the DACA “Dreamer” program; now Congress has to decide how to handle undocumented natives

by Chris Thomas

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At the core of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was the understanding that, for many who crossed the border as children, the United States was the only home they’d ever known. While immigrants by law, the DREAMers were and are natives in practice. President Trump’s announcement that he will end the DACA program forces the issue back to Congress which must now decide how the law should handle these 800,000 “undocumented natives” known as “dreamers.”

Options

While the DREAM Act was never passed into law, the ideas that made it up have faired so well in the court of public opinion that nearly every option before Congress starts with the DREAM act or something very much like it as a foundation. While the DREAM Act has been considered by numerous congresses since its introduction in 2001, it is not presently before the 115th Congress. Nonetheless, it is a logical place to start if we are to understand what Congress is considering.

The DREAM Act

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act — DREAM Act — dates to the George W. Bush administration and forms the basis of President Obama’s DACA program, so much so that the two are often discussed interchangeably. The DREAM Act provides a path through conditional resident status to permanent resident status for those who:

  • Arrived in the United States before their 16th birthday
  • Have been in the United States for at least five years
  • Graduated from a US highschool or recieved a GED
  • Have shown themselves to be of “good moral character”

After the six year “conditional” period applicants can become eligible for permanent resident status. This requires additional background checks and attendance at a college or trade school or honorable service in the US military.

The American Hope Act

The American Hope Act (H.R. 3591) has much in common with the DREAM act but additionally provides a path beyond permanent residency to citizenship. It would cover more immigrants, and provide better support for those seeking to assimilate in the United States. For example, while the DREAM act requires language proficiency, the Hope act additionally funds grant programs to teach English. The Hope act also lacks the DREAM acts requirement of military service or higher education to reach permanent resident status.

Introduced By: Rep Luis Gutierrez (D-IL4) and 138 cosponsors
Current Status: In House Committee (Judiciary, Education and the Workforce)

Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act

The RAC Act (H.R. 1468) likewise mirrors the DREAM act though it imagines stricter timelines than the Hope Act. The RAC act allows for a 5 year conditional period which can be extended for an additional 5 years. Once extended, RAC enrollees would be eligible to apply for permanent residency. Unlike the Hope or DREAM acts, the RAC act requires a valid work authorization to enroll which would effectively exclude DACA eligible immigrants who chose not to participate in the program. Critics of the RAC Act note that some of its provisions unnecessarily punish immigrants: for example, while RAC will accept two years of military service for extension of the conditional period, if the enrollee is wounded and honorably discharged prior to the completion of those two years they would not qualify as the bill is presently written.

Introduced By: Rep Carlos Curbelo (R-FL26) and 18 cosponsors
Current Status: In House Committee (Judiciary, Homeland Security, Armed Services)

The Bridge Act

The Bridge Act (S. 128), as its name implies, is a bridge towards an immigration policy rather than an immigration policy itself. The Bridge Act creates a “provisional protected presence” which Dreamers could apply for provided they pay a fee, pass a background check, and demonstrate that they are not a threat to public safety. The Bridge act would apply to the population previously served by DACA that has lived in the United States since June 15, 2007.

Introduced By: Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and 9 cosponsors
Current Status: In Senate Committee (Judiciary)

What’s Next?

While the Bridge Act enjoys bipartisan support and both parties have bills which seek to replace DACA with a similar program, there is a political fight brewing just beneath the surface as suggested by lack of cosponsors to the GOP’s “Recognizing America’s Children” Act.

President Trump campaigned on ending the DACA program. The President’s statement suggests that his rational is one grounded in the separation of powers and the rejection of the Executive’s ability to make such sweeping decisions without Congressional input, but elections are not won based upon such legalistic arguments. Congress, and especially vulnerable Republican congressmen, will have to think long and hard before supporting any immigration reform bills that appear to offer amnesty, forgiveness, or a path to citizenship for anyone who crossed the border illegally regardless of their age at the time.

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Further Reading

The fight over the Dreamers and the DACA program is far from over. To learn more, click below:

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