By No Labels
The fate of young undocumented immigrants called “Dreamers” is part of what’s holding up a government spending bill that will fund hundreds of billions of dollars in government programs.
What’s strange is that most Republicans and Democrats are interested in a long-term solution that protects Dreamers from deportation. But they diverge on how to help them and on whether the Dreamer issue should be solved alone or alongside other immigration priorities such as border security and criteria for admitting new immigrants.
As the debate unfolds in the next two weeks — that spending bill has a Jan. 19 deadline — here’s what you need to know.
Dreamers are undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children and teens. Congress has long sought to help with a bipartisan bill called the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to legal residency. Yet the bill has never passed, despite repeated attempts since 2001.
The DREAM Act (short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) is responsible for the Dreamers nickname. Most variations of the bill would give those who were 18 or younger when they arrived in the United States a conditional period of several years in which to complete certain steps, like education or military service. If those steps are completed, they would eventually become permanent residents and could then apply for citizenship.
Because the DREAM Act never passed, President Obama enacted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, which gave almost 800,000 undocumented immigrants a renewable two-year window of protection against deportation. This allowed them to obtain a driver’s license, hold a job, attend college — even pay taxes. It applied to those who were under 16 when they arrived in the U.S. and were under 30 when the program was enacted. There was no path to legal residency or citizenship.
But many criticized the DACA program as unconstitutional — a similar program for older immigrants was shot down by the courts — because Congress must enact laws that govern U.S. immigration (and almost everything else). The Trump administration rescinded the program in September, but delayed implementation for six months and called upon Congress to pass legislation. That deadline is up on March 5, unless Congress acts.
Democrats in Congress are pushing Congress to pass legislation to protect Dreamers, and to do so soon. The idea seems to have support on both sides of the aisle, and even some groups opposed to immigration are not objecting. However, many Republicans—including President Trump—say any Dreamer deal must be paired with enhanced border security measures. That created a major sticking point.
With a deadline in March, Democrats are insisting that immigration be addressed as part of a must-pass spending bill that must be approved by Jan. 19 to avoid a government shutdown. Forging agreement on a spending deal is hard even in the best of circumstances. Including immigration in the mix makes the degree of difficulty even higher.
While most Republicans and Democrats in Congress agree that Dreamers should be protected, and could perhaps find agreement on border security measures that involve more technology or personnel, President Trump’s campaign promise to build a border wall has presented a challenge.
The Trump administration has moved forward on the wall, even going so far as to commission some prototypes, but it will need funding from Congress to build it. Trump himself is now insisting that any action to protect Dreamers include funding for the wall. Democrats say they will not support a wall.
A common sense compromise on the Dreamers issues is possible. A few months ago, No Labels vice chairs Al Cardenas and Mack McLarty explained what it might look like. Now it’s up to our elected leaders to find the common ground.