After the Trump Administration announced the end to an executive branch program that has protected up to 800,000 undocumented immigrants since 2012, Democrats and Republicans have introduced several bills in Congress, each of which would provide a path to documented and legal residence.
President Trump announced in early September that he would rescind an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in six months, unless Congress acted to give it a legislative basis.
The program, instituted by a 2012 executive order, allowed the children of undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, by instituting a two-year deferment of deportation and allowing them eligibility for work permits.
It’s estimated that up to 800,000 people qualify for this program. Many of them have never known another country besides America, and 900 of them currently serve in the U.S. military.
Trump’s exact plan was unexpected, with some White House aides believing the final plan would be more generous and less stringent right up until the morning Trump announced it.
Yet Trump also announced that he would not formally suspend the program for another six months, in March 2018, giving Congress a six-month window to legislatively solve the issue. Even many Republicans — though certainly not all — support the idea of keeping DACA or at least some similar alternative in place.
The Democrats’ bill
The legislation primarily supported by Democrats is called the Dream Act, an acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors.
The bill would allow permanent residence — and a path to citizenship — for children of undocumented immigrants if they came to this country as children, get a high school degree or GED, pass a background check and English proficiency test, and have no criminal record.
This is a very similar — almost identical — to the program President Obama unilaterally established by executive order in 2012.
Both versions of the bill, labelled H.R. 3440 in the House and S. 1615 in the Senate, were introduced in July. They await votes in the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
What supporters say about the Dream Act
The mostly Democratic supporters say their bill is in the national interest both economically and morally.
“These young people have lived in America since they were children and built their lives here,” Senate lead sponsor Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said in a statement. “There is support across the country for allowing Dreamers — who have records of achievement — to stay, work, and reach their full potential. We should not squander these young people’s talents and penalize our own nation. Our legislation would allow these young people — who grew up in the United States — to contribute more fully to the country they love.”
The Republican bill
A more conservative alternative has been brought forward: the Recognizing America’s Children Act, labelled H.R. 1468 in the House. It was introduced in March by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL24), a Hispanic Republican who didn’t vote for Trump.
Children of undocumented immigrants — who pursue higher education, military service, or work authorization — would be allowed to apply for five-year “conditional status” followed by the ability to re-apply for a five-year “permanent status.” It also allows the government to deport or remove the legal status of anybody on the program if they don’t stay employed or stay in school.
The bill has 30 cosponsors, all Republicans, and awaits a vote in the House Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees.
What supporters say about the Recognizing America’s Children Act
The mostly Republican supporters say their bill strikes the best middle ground between Trump’s too stringent immigration policies and Democrats’ too lenient ones.
“[The Recognizing America’s Children Act] strikes us as a good compromise, predicated upon the child arriving in the United States before 2012,” the _Denver Post _editorialized. “[It’s] a move that prevents incentivizing people to come here illegally or overstay their visas with the promise that their children can get legal status after waiting in the shadows for a certain amount of time.
What Trump says
Trump couched his decision to rescind DACA primarily in terms of legality.
“The legislative branch, not the executive branch, writes these laws,” Trump said in a statement announcing the decision. “In referencing the idea of creating new immigration rules unilaterally, President Obama admitted that ‘I can’t just do these things by myself’ — and yet that is exactly what he did, making an end-run around Congress and violating the core tenets that sustain our Republic.”
“Officials from 10 States are suing over the program, requiring my Administration to make a decision regarding its legality,” Trump continued. “The Attorney General of the United States, the Attorneys General of many states, and virtually all other top legal experts have advised that the program is unlawful and unconstitutional and cannot be successfully defended in court.”
(Some believe Trump’s legalistic justifications are merely a ruse to hide the “real” reasons of xenophobia and racism, which Trump denies.)
It’s also thought that Trump may have cancelled DACA now, at least in part, because Congress appeared unlikely to approve sufficient funding for a border wall with Mexico, a central campaign promise that helped Trump get elected in the first place. Trump may require that any DACA replacement law passed by Congress include funding for a “tremendous wall” in order to gain the president’s signature.
Tentatively, Trump this week has agreed to a DACA-only bill with the wall in a different bill.
Odds of passage
Which bill stands the best chance of passage?
The Dream Act had languished upon its original introduction, with the House bill only gaining a mere three sponsors within a month after its introduction. But within mere days after Trump’s announcement, the bill rose to 193 total cosponsors.
Yet only two Republicans have signed on as cosponsors: Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO6) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL27) — and they both signed on in July. In other words, not a single House Republican has signed on since Trump’s announcement, indicating a dearth of party members willing to challenge the president on this issue.
The lead Senate sponsor is actually a Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Nonetheless, it’s largely considered a “Democratic bill” with six Democratic and three Republican cosponsors. Plus the Senate text is identical to the House version which is almost exclusively supported by Democrats.
So despite sizable Democratic support, this bill would ostensibly stand a small chance of passage because Democrats are in the minority in the both chambers of Congress. Yet Trump has seemingly given it a tepid endorsement, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) claiming that Trump told her in private that he would sign the DREAM Act if Congress passed it.
The Recognizing America’s Children Act has fewer cosponsors, but could gain momentum as it’s the biggest Republican-led proposal right now, and they’re the party that controls both the House and Senate.
A third potential legislative fix, the BRIDGE Act, doesn’t seem to be gaining as much steam recently — despite 31 House cosponsors, an even mix of 16 Democrats and 15 Republicans. In fact, the lead sponsor of the Senate versionintroduced in January was Lindsey Graham, who seems to have basically abandoned that bill in favor of the Dream Act, which he sponsored a few months later in July.
10/08/2017, Correction: GovTrack was alerted to an error in our original opening paragraph which referred to DACA recipients as American citizens, which they are not. We have updated the paragraph to accurately describe their status as undocumented immigrants.