The Trump administration announced last month that it was ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 Obama administration executive order that provided some measure of protection to undocumented young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
These young immigrants are students, teachers, doctors, lawyers, members of the military and entrepreneurs who have set down roots. They believe in the promise of America, even as it threatens to toss them out.
Shortly after the announcement, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pledged to find ways to keep DACA beneficiaries from being deported out of the only country they call home.
But in the weeks since President Donald Trump rescinded DACA – and despite recent pledges to act – Congressional leaders have taken no concrete steps to move legislation that would provide a path to citizenship or protect DACA beneficiaries. As a result, an estimated 800,000 young immigrants remain in limbo with an arbitrary deadline of March 5 looming. That’s when grants and work permits for DACA holders who were ineligible to reapply for protection under the program will begin to expire.
The White House has complicated matters by introducing a list of punitive demands, including harsh new rules for asylum seekers, that it says must be included in any new legislation.
There is still reason for hope.
A bill introduced this summer with bipartisan support (Sens. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Commerce, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.) would allow undocumented high school graduates a way forward through college, work or military service and eventually a path to citizenship.
Unfortunately, the legislation remains stuck in Congressional subcommittees, where some hardline Republicans hope it will languish and die just as it did in previous Congresses.
But there is time and a way to rescue this legislation – it’s called a discharge petition, which “discharges” the bill from any committee where it is stuck. If 24 Republicans join the 194 Democrats who have already signed a discharge petition, they can force a floor vote before the full House. Then it will be up to a simple majority to pass the legislation.
Presently, only a handful of Republicans are signed onto the Dream Act. They include Reps. Jeff Denham of Turlock, David Valadeo of Hanford, and three others. Only one – Mike Coffman of Colorado – has signed the discharge petition.
Perhaps some Republican lawmakers believe a discharge petition is too drastic a step – Congress is historically loath to contravene the decisions of committee leaders. Others might fear that signing on will carry political consequences with party leaders or voters back home.
Such claims should be examined carefully.
First, 86 percent of Americans support Dreamers, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll taken late last month.
Second, while it’s true that discharge petitions are seldom successful, they’re not impossible. In the 107 years since these petitions were first adopted, 48 have succeeded in bringing a bill to the floor – including a 2002 petition that spurred passage of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.
And while some Republicans might be wary of a voter backlash, that is unlikely an issue for lawmakers from states such as California – home to nearly a third of all DACA recipients.
Those representatives know better than most how much is at stake for these young immigrants, who may soon find themselves at the mercy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency prone to abuse and overreach.
Moreover, some of those same Republican moderates in heavily Latino districts clearly don’t fear voting against their leadership, having already publicly urged House Speaker Paul Ryan to act. If those lawmakers are truly concerned about leadership, they would be wise to take the reins themselves and lead the way toward a more equitable future for Dreamers.
Andrea Senteno is a legislative staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She wrote this for The Modesto Bee.