WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump’s decision to discontinue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program angered lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, but, for the first time, Congress now has a hard deadline to pass needed immigration reforms.
“In some ways that may be the silver lining of this decision,” Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief, told me. “We’ve never had a real deadline on immigration reform policies before. This gives them some urgency.”
World Relief and many other Christian organizations expressed support of DACA recipients and asked Congress to act by the March 5, 2018, deadline set by the president.
“For far too long in this country, Hispanic young people have been the political bargaining chips of our powerful politicians,” Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said in a statement. “Our elected members of Congress have time and again professed concern for the Hispanic community and yet have chosen to do nothing.”
President Barack Obama created DACA in 2012. Since then, nearly 800,000 young immigrants voluntarily paid a fee to register with the federal government to obtain a work permit or finish school without fear of retribution for breaking immigration laws.
Many Republicans, including Trump, said DACA was an overreach of executive power. Obama didn’t change immigration law; he just created a way to allow certain immigrants to circumvent existing statutes.
DACA recipients had to be under the age of 31 as of June 5, 2012; have entered the United States before their 16th birthday, and have continuously resided in the country since June 15, 2007. They also could not have a criminal record and had to meet certain education requirements.
Many DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers,” grew up in the United States and don’t know any other home. Their parents brought them to the country when they were small children, and the DACA program gave them, for the first time, the legal status to work in the United States or further their education.
“To hold someone responsible who was brought to this country as a 3-year-old doesn’t seem very just,” Soerens added.
But there’s still disagreement on what to do. Trump essentially asked a Congress that couldn’t repeal Obamacare with only Republican votes to reform the U.S. immigration system in a matter of months. If Congress does nothing, Soerens predicted 30,000 DACA recipients would lose their work permits and could face deportation each month beginning in March until they are all gone.
On Tuesday, Sens. Dick Durbin, R-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called for a quick vote on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. Congress has considered versions of this legislation for 16 years, but it has failed each time. The current Durbin-Graham bill would grant children of illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they met certain requirements such as graduating from high school, seeking higher education, serving in the military, or working lawfully in the United States for three years.
There is broad support for the legislation on both sides of the aisle, but it still puts Republicans in a difficult position. Many in the GOP campaigned on enforcing immigration laws and could lose support from their base if they voted to grant amnesty to thousands of undocumented residents.
Trump’s March deadline for Congress to act on DACA places enormous pressure on lawmakers to find a compromise.
Democrats threatened Wednesday to create a logjam in Congress unless Republican leaders offered a vote on the DREAM Act.
“I’m confident that if put on the floor, it will garner overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said.