Key Dream Act Sponsor Sees Path Forward for Legislation

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By Laura D. Francis

There’s a “compelling argument” to pass the Dream Act now that President Donald Trump has announced the end of an administration program protecting young, undocumented immigrants, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said Sept. 11.

Durbin, speaking to a group of Bloomberg reporters, said he was “puzzled” by the president’s Sept. 5 announcement that he was phasing out the deferred action for childhood arrivals program. The five-year-old holdover from the Obama administration allows undocumented immigrants, brought to the U.S. as children, to work and have a temporary reprieve from deportation.

Trump told Durbin after the inauguration that “we’re going to take care of those kids,” the senator said. But DACA’s end “leaves the status and future of these dreamers in doubt.”

Under the wind down of the program, any DACA recipient whose work permit expires before March 5, 2018, has until Oct. 5, 2017, to file for renewal. Current work permits will remain valid until they expire, but no new DACA applications are being accepted.

Durbin is the primary co-sponsor, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), of the Dream Act ( S. 1615), legislation that would grant legal status to roughly the same group of immigrants covered by DACA. He’s introduced the Dream Act multiple times in Congress for the past 16 years.

Democrats don’t want a “showdown” with Republicans and the White House over the Dream Act, but “we are not going to leave town without it,” the Senate minority whip said.

On the House side, minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is circulating a discharge petition to try and force a floor vote on the House version of the Dream Act (H.R. 3440), which currently has 191 co-sponsors from both parties. “They’re doing well,” and a floor vote this way allows House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to avoid the potential political consequences of having brought it to the floor himself, Durbin said.

Legislative Package?

There’s a possibility that the Dream Act—or its Republican-backed cousin, the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act ( H.R. 1468)—could get paired with funding for the president’s border wall. But Durbin doesn’t think that’s necessarily going to happen.

“The wall is a non-starter,” he said. Democrats don’t support it, and there’s spotty support among Republicans, Durbin said.

Some who support tougher immigration enforcement also don’t believe pairing wall funding with the Dream Act is a fair trade-off. “The border security stuff will be window dressing,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, recently told Bloomberg BNA.

Mandatory E-Verify Gains Support

Any kind of bill providing legal status to undocumented immigrants has to include a requirement that employers use the E-Verify electronic employment verification system, said Krikorian, whose organization supports lower immigration levels. The legislation has to eliminate the jobs magnet that draws unauthorized immigrants to the U.S., he said.

The legislative package should put an end to “chain migration,” Krikorian said. Otherwise, any undocumented immigrants who are legalized under the measure would be able to petition for legal status for their parents and other relatives, thus expanding the scope of the legalization beyond what was originally intended, he said.

Durbin has “made clear” that he doesn’t support any measure that would make it easier to deport the parents of immigrants covered by the Dream Act, his spokesman Ben Marter told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 11. Mandatory E-Verify would do just that, he said.

But Durbin also isn’t “going to negotiate with himself,” Marter said. The senator is “open to any discussion on how to give permanent legal status to Dreamers,” he said.

Meanwhile, the attorneys general of California, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota Sept. 11 filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its decision to end DACA. The Trump administration violated the Constitution in rescinding DACA, the complaint says. The lawsuit is the second to challenge the DACA termination; last week, 15 states and the District of Columbia also sued the administration shortly after the rescission was announced.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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