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Status of Dreamers Remains in Limbo as Talks Continue in Congress

January 17, 2018

empty classroom

Bills to protect young immigrants introduced in House, floated in Senate

Bipartisan talks in both the House and Senate continue to look for a legislative solution to protect Dreamers, young people brought illegally to the United States as children. These immigrants, many of whom have temporary legal status under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, have been at the center of discussions in Congress and the administration since President Trump announced a six-month phase-out of DACA in September.

The chance of a bill providing protection for Dreamers—along with other immigration issues—being approved this week is uncertain after the president rejected a proposal presented by Senate negotiators last week, igniting an international outcry after reportedly using vulgar language to question why the United States would continue to accept immigrants from Haiti and African countries under the proposal

Also complicating matters is the need to pass another stop-gap spending bill for FY 2018. Democrats continue to insist that if Republicans want their support for a spending deal, it must include a legislative fix to help DACA recipients. Republicans maintain that DACA must be dealt with separately from spending negotiations.

Congress has until midnight on Friday, Jan. 19 to agree on a spending bill before government funding is set to run out. House Republicans released a plan yesterday to fund the government through Feb. 16 that does not include a solution for DACA, meaning Republicans would have to pass the bill without any Democratic votes. The White House said today that it backs the bill. 

On the House side, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced a Republican-only immigration bill Jan. 10 that includes a temporary three-year DACA fix along with a long list of conservative immigration reforms and border security enhancements. The Securing America’s Future Act (H.R. 4760) would provide DACA recipients temporary legal status that would require renewal every three years. That status would allow them to work and travel overseas freely, but would require them to “make use of existing paths to green cards.”

Reps. Will Hurd (R-TX) and Pete Aguilar (D-CA) this week introduced the Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act, with bipartisan support from 40 Republican and 10 Democratic cosponsors. The bill provides a path to citizenship for Dreamers and funding for border security, but does not address issues of “chain migration” or changes to the existing visa programs, so it is unlikely to be supported by the White House or the Republican leadership.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) have been working to put together legislation to protect Dreamers based on a deal presented last week to the White House, but as Politico reported today, their plan is having trouble getting traction.

Other recent developments on DACA and Dreamers:

In the Courts

On Jan. 9, San Francisco-based U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup ordered the Trump administration to resume accepting renewal applications from DACA recipients. The judge also said Attorney General Jeff Sessions' conclusion that the program was illegal appeared to be "based on a flawed legal premise.” The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced in response that current DACA recipients can again apply for two-year renewals.

The Department of Justice, which is seeking to appeal a lower court ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, said it intends to take the "rare step" of seeking a direct review of the ruling by the Supreme Court.

Senate Committee on the Judiciary Hearing

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen insisted that only Congress can reach a solution for Dreamers during a contentious congressional hearing on Tuesday, where she was repeatedly hammered on the president's remarks last week. To watch a webcast of that hearing, see the committee’s website.

Contact Congress

The Protect Dreamers Higher Education Coalition website provides more information about the issue, as well as a tool for contacting members of Congress to let them know the importance of acting now to pass a permanent legislative fix protecting Dreamers. To send a letter, click here.

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