Senator Seeks Relief for ‘Legal Dreamers’ in Wake of DACA Debate

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By Laura D. Francis

Getting high-skilled foreign workers out of the green card backlog is getting more attention in Congress, but whether legislation actually gets passed is still up in the air.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the latest lawmaker to take notice of a group that has identified itself as “legal dreamers": the children of mostly Indian high-skilled immigrant workers who face the loss of their immigration status.

“The debate recently has been dominated by one group of people who came illegally, and I do have some sympathy,” Paul told Bloomberg Law Feb. 28. But those who “obeyed the rules” can “get caught in this trap as well,” he said.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, “children” who can be a foreign worker’s dependents must be unmarried and under 21. But the wait for an employment-based green card for Indian nationals is so long that many of their children “age out” of dependent status during that time.

One report estimates that Indians could wait as many as 70 years for a green card to become available in the EB-3 category, which covers skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers. The backlog stems from a combination of overall annual limits on employment-based green cards, coupled with caps on the number of immigrants from each country who can receive them each year.

Focus on DACA

Congress has been focused on figuring out a legislative package that would grant legal status to young, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. The issue took on additional urgency when the Trump administration ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in September, setting March 5 as the date when the program would be terminated completely.

Some of that urgency waned after two federal judges ordered the Homeland Security Department to continue accepting DACA renewal applications. The U.S. Supreme Court Feb. 26 declined to hear the administration’s direct appeal of one of those orders.

The Senate debated and voted on several proposals the week of Feb. 12, but nothing passed out of the chamber, including a proposal backed by the White House.

It was during that debate that Paul tried to offer amendments addressing legal dreamers.

One, he said, is a bill (S. 281) sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would have eliminated per-country caps on employment-based visas. The companion bill in the House (H.R. 392), sponsored by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), has a whopping 371 co-sponsors.

Another would have nearly doubled the number of employment-based green cards available each year and exempted immigrant workers’ dependent spouses and children from counting against the annual cap, he said.

Exempting dependents from counting against the cap “is something that a lot of people have asked us for,” Paul said.

Amendments Blocked

But Paul said he was stymied by Senate Democrats, who objected to the amendments.

It’s “ironic that they opposed going beyond DACA” during the immigration debate, when Democrats traditionally favor immigration, Paul said. “I think my amendments would have passed,” but “I never got a chance,” he said.

Representatives for Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) didn’t respond to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.

Still, “there are problems on both sides of the aisle” when it comes to immigration, Paul said. “Everybody wants a predetermined outcome,” and it’s usually failure of a particular measure “so they can still campaign on it,” he said.

“We’re going to keep pushing it,” Paul said of the green card issue. We need “more emphasis on expanding legal immigration” because it reduces illegal immigration, he said.

Support, Opposition

Paul is getting some support from those in the immigration field. A group of 16 immigration attorneys and law professors March 1 issued a statement in support of protections for the dependent children of foreign workers who age out of their status because of the green card backlog.

But not everyone is in agreement.

“It is unsurprising to see that the Koch Brothers’ favorite Senator wants to flood the country with immigrant labor just as the American people are finally reaping the benefits of a tighter labor market,” RJ Hauman, government relations director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law March 1. “By introducing this special interest driven proposal, Senator Paul is showing that his sympathies lie with foreign nationals and the business lobby, not American workers,” said Hauman, whose organization supports lower immigration levels.

“Senator Paul should be ready to explain to the millions of young Americans who will enter the workforce this year why he believes even more foreign nationals should compete with them for the same job opportunities,” he said. “There are roughly two new foreign workers for every four American workers who enter the workforce. Isn’t that more than enough?”

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