Senators Offer BRIDGE to ‘Dreamer' Immigrants

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By Laura D. Francis

Dec. 9 — Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are introducing legislation to provide temporary immigration status to young, undocumented immigrants eligible for President Barack Obama’s deportation protection program.

The measure is the latest development in what has been a mounting effort to save the deferred action for childhood arrivals program. DACA, launched in 2012 by the Obama administration, provides deportation relief and work permits to young, undocumented immigrants—known as “dreamers”—who came to the U.S. as children and who are pursuing education or military service.

The proposed Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act would give “provisional protected presence” for three years to all immigrants currently in the DACA program, as well as those who are eligible but haven’t yet applied, Durbin said in a Dec. 9 floor statement. The status would protect the immigrants from deportation and allow them to work in the U.S. and would have the same eligibility criteria as DACA, he said.

The bill is a “bipartisan answer to the question about what happens” to the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients “while we debate the future of immigration,” Durbin said. President-elect Donald Trump’s call for an end to the program has created “concern and fear” on both sides of the aisle, he said.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also have signed onto the bill.

DACA Lives

There are ever-increasing signs that DACA—which Trump pledged to eliminate on his first day in office—may not be dead after all.

There’s been mounting political pressure to preserve the program, or at least provide protection to the immigrants it covers. In addition to the bipartisan Senate bill, 64 House Democrats have signed onto a letter asking that Obama pardon DACA recipients.

Trump himself has softened his tone on DACA since the election.

“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” he said of program recipients, in an interview with Time magazine that was released Dec. 7. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” Trump said.

Trump “may realize that revoking DACA” is “not a very smart thing to do politically,” Austin Fragomen of Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy said Dec. 7 at the Practising Law Institute’s Immigration and Naturalization Institute in New York.

‘Win-Win for Trump.’

The Durbin/Graham bill may be the president-elect’s avenue to keep his promise to end DACA but also protect those it benefits.

For the most part, congressional Republicans’ prior opposition to DACA was rooted in how it came about, rather than its substance. DACA was created via a Department of Homeland Security memorandum, rather than through formal rulemaking or legislation.

“This bill would be a win-win for Donald Trump as president-elect,” American Immigration Lawyers Association Director of Advocacy Gregory Chen told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 9. It’s a “legislative solution to protecting this highly compelling population,” he said.

While Trump has taken a hard line when it comes to enforcing immigration law against undocumented immigrants who commit crimes, “he had a substantially different view” when it came to families and children, Chen said.

‘Big Opportunity’ for Republicans

Only a “handful of Republicans” are needed for the bill to pass the Senate, Chen said.

Passage in the House likely will be more of a challenge considering the chamber’s unwillingness to move any kind of immigration legislation in recent years, he said. But “members of Congress who might not otherwise support immigration reform at large” understand “the importance of protecting this population,” Chen said.

“Republicans are realizing that they have a pretty big opportunity in front of them,” National Immigration Forum Executive Director Ali Noorani told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 9. For years they’ve said they wouldn’t support an immigration overhaul because the Democrats would get the credit. Now, with a Republican president and Republican Congress, they can get “full and fair credit for everything immigration-related,” he said.

And Republicans aren’t going to want credit for deporting more than 700,000 young people, Noorani said.

And the closer Trump’s inauguration gets, “the more that he’s going to realize that reforms to the immigration system serve the interests of the American worker,” he said. “When he’s inaugurated, words become actions,” Noorani said.

More Comprehensive Solution Sought

In addition to protecting the DACA population, the BRIDGE Act seeks to be a placeholder until Congress works out more comprehensive immigration legislation, Durbin said.

The legislation is “no substitute for broader legislation to fix our broken immigration system,” he said. “We need a path to citizenship not just to dreamers, but to their parents and other undocumented immigrants” living in the shadows, who “should be given a chance to prove themselves in America,” he said.

“Comprehensive solutions” to immigration “still has to be the priority,” Chen said.

The essential elements of an immigration overhaul include making sure undocumented immigrants are put on a path to legal status, there’s a functioning legal immigration system, and the country has an “effective and humane enforcement system,” Noorani said. His organization will be “working with the administration and Congress to negotiate some deals that serve these priorities,” he said.

The data show that legalizing undocumented immigrants and overhauling the legal immigration system boost the economy and help U.S. workers, Noorani said. So while the BRIDGE Act is a “great step,” it’s only “one piece of a puzzle,” he said.

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

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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