Immigration / U.S. Senate

On Dreamers: Too Many Bills, Too Little Consensus

Last month, Senate Republicans introduced yet another bill to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation after the Trump administration announced earlier this month that the Deferred Action for Childhood (DACA) program is being rescinded.

DACA, an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2012, provided temporary legal status to young immigrants (commonly referred to as Dreamers) who were illegally brought to the United States as children. At present, nearly 800,000 young immigrants are benefitting from DACA, which has allowed them to gain lawful employment and pursue higher education. The number of eligible beneficiaries is estimated to be close to 1.9 million, according to the Migration Policy Institute’s 2016 estimates.

The latest bill, known as the Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education, and Defending our Nation (SUCCEED) Act, is one of the many efforts by Congress to legalize Dreamers and provide them with a path to citizenship. Previous attempts have included the introduction of the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act, the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy Act (BRIDGE) Act, and most importantly, the DREAM Act which has been introduced several times since 2001. As a result, Congress now has several ways to approach the issue of Dreamers.

The DREAM Act: Introduced in the Senate in 2001, the DREAM Act has been scrapped and re-introduced on various occasions without successful passage. These roadblocks/oppositions were due to criticisms from conservative lawmakers for being too lenient and encouraging chain migration. Nevertheless, the bill has a strong backing from Democratic lawmakers in its current form. Nearly 191 Democrats and two Republicans in the House of Representatives have co-sponsored the legislation, that provides conditional permanent residence to young immigrants for up to eight years and allows Dreamers to obtain green cards if certain requirements are met. In order to be eligible, an immigrant must have been brought to the country before age 18 and continuously lived in the United States for a period of four years.

The BRIDGE Act: The Bridge Act was introduced by a Republican lawmaker in the House and has near equal support from Republican and Democrats. The legislation applies to immigrants who were brought to the country before the age of 16 and lived continuously in the United States for five years. Unlike the DREAM Act, the BRIDGE Act provides “provisional protected status” that protects Dreamers from deportation for three years.

The RAC Act: Introduced by a Republican congressman earlier this year, the RAC Act has over 30 co-sponsors, all of whom belong to the Republican party. Just like the Bridge Act, the RAC Act applies to young immigrants who came to the U.S. before age 16 and have continuously lived in the country for five years. The bill, however, allows Dreamers to get conditional permanent residence for a period of five years, after which they can apply for the removal of conditionality.

SUCCEED Act: The SUCCEED Act is the latest congressional effort to legalize Dreamers in the wake of the Trump administration’s announcement to rescind DACA. Introduced by a Republican senator from North Carolina and cosponsored by two other GOP senators, the bill has more stringent conditions to maintain conditional permanent residency and provides an eventual pathway to citizenship to Dreamers over 15 years. However, a number of provisions, such as the applicant’s age of entry and duration of conditional permanent residency, remain the same.

Perhaps the good news from all these bills is that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree on at least one thing: protecting Dreamers from deportation by allowing them to be productive citizens so they can continue to make meaningful contributions to the country. Even outside the Congress, these sentiments are largely shared by the general population, as recent polls point towards overwhelming support to protect young immigrants from deportation and establishing a clear path to citizenship.

The problem, then, doesn’t seem to be opposition from the electorate, and certainly not the absence of relevant legislation. Rather, it is the lack of consensus and political will among congressional leaders to work collaboratively towards a common goal. In their current form, none of the current bills have enough support to secure passage in Congress, primarily due to their differences among lawmakers over immigration reform. While politicians on the Democratic side seem to be eager on passing the Dream Act, conservatives want stricter conditions for the legalization of Dreamers. More importantly, however, they want legalization to be paired with strict enforcement of border security and comprehensive immigration reform. This, in turn, has created an uncertain path forward for Dreamers, many of whom don’t recognize any country other than the United States.

Whether the SUCCEED Act will be able to garner enough support to secure passage is yet to be seen, but from a historical perspective, fresh bills have not worked and only prolonged the woes of young immigrants. It is high time that the congressional leaders set aside their differences and engage in meaningful dialogue on immigration with the purpose of achieving concrete results. Any feasible solution will require compromise on both ends of the political spectrum, and recent steps from Democratic leaders to pair border security in exchange for a legislative fix seem to be a step in the right direction. The Democrats are aware of the challenges in legalizing Dreamers in the wake of their electoral defeat in 2016 and have signaled their willingness to work on the issue. Perhaps this is the right opportunity for all lawmakers to put the issue at the forefront and reach a consensus once and for all, since the stakes of letting this chance slip by are just too high for the country.