Senate must pass legislation this week to legalize DREAMers but avoid unnecessary immigration enforcement measures and green card reductions
Spurred on by President Trump’s ending of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative in September 2017, on Monday the Senate began an “open-ended” debate on immigration, which is set to only last for this week. The debate is centered around possible legislation to legalize and provide a path to citizenship for the up to 1.8 million unauthorized immigrants who entered the United States as minors, known as DREAMers, including the 700,000 current recipients of DACA. Without the protection of DACA or new legislation, DACA recipients will be left without the ability to attend college or work legally, leaving them unable to access labor and employment law protections because they’ll fear deportation. Passing a bill that legalizes DACA recipients and DREAMers is an urgent priority that Congress should focus on, but the debate will unfortunately spend far too much time this week on adding new immigration enforcement measures and cutting the number of permanent immigrant visas (also known as “green cards”).
The White House and some Republican senators have made it clear that in return for DREAMer legalization, they’d like a large expansion in immigration enforcement and cuts to the number of immigrants that can become permanent residents and American citizens in the future. It is obvious to any rational observer that President Trump intentionally created a crisis for DREAMers by ending DACA as a way to achieve these immigration policy goals—which reflect the misguided and draconian priorities of his administration and Republicans on the hard-right—in exchange for ending the crisis Trump created. Both Republican Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ariz.) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have expressed their support for Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley’s Secure and Succeed Act of 2018—which is based on the White House’s proposed framework for an immigration deal that includes DREAMer legalization—and both believe it’s the only piece of legislation that can become law. Other Republican Senators who have co-sponsored the Secure and Succeed legislation include Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), and James Lankford (R-Okla.).
While the Secure and Succeed Act would legalize up to 1.8 million DREAMers and allow them to become citizens after 12 years, it also includes large cuts to family-based permanent immigrant categories, eliminates the Diversity Visa and repurposes the visas towards the current green card backlog, provides the government with additional legal authority to deport unauthorized immigrants with less due process, permanently authorizes E-Verify, the government’s electronic employment verification system, and creates a $25 billion “trust fund” to further militarize the southern and northern U.S. borders with additional infrastructure, technology and personnel, and a border wall.
A recent survey revealed that two-thirds of the American public supports legalizing DREAMers. Support is much weaker for more border security (a majority oppose a wall), and nearly the same percentage opposed and supported allowing immigrants to bring extended family into the Untied States (46 percent opposed and 45 percent supported), which is the main way the Secure and Succeed Act would reduce immigration levels. The extra enforcement plus immigration cuts that Republicans and the White House have proposed are much less popular among the public—and would represent broad and sweeping changes to the U.S. immigration system—and should therefore only be debated in Congress as part of a total package of immigration reforms that include legalization and a path to citizenship for all 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants.
Although Democrats will have to make some concessions in order to get a legislative deal, the Senate should keep the legislation that legalizes DREAMers as clean and narrow as possible—and pass it as quickly so that DREAMers are not left unprotected.