The 800,000 Dreamers, who have been losing their DACA status at a steady clip of 122 per day, and who will all be at risk of deportation come March 5, have become a massive bargaining chip in Congress. While a federal judge in San Francisco passed a temporary reprieve when it blocked the Trump administration’s plan to end DACA, it’s far from the solution needed to avoid a government shutdown this Friday.
As 2017 wound down, hope was still alive for a no strings attached “clean” Dream Act that would offer a path to citizenship for these young people who were brought to the United States as children, who went through American schools, and who often know no other home. But Congress failed to pass a clean Dream Act, and in 2018, the negotiation has shifted in unexpected ways.
For Erika Andiola, one of the seven Dreamers who was arrested outside Senator Chuck Schumer’s office in December as she pushed for a passage of the Dream Act, the current state of affairs is disappointing, to say the least.
“I’ve been organizing for the Dream Act since 2010,” Andiola, an Arizona native and former press secretary of Hispanic media for US Senator Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign, told VICE Impact, “and with our hard work, we were able to win DACA. It hurts to see that our efforts and everything we have fought for have been taken away. I have learned to navigate the world being an undocumented person without protection, but it’s difficult and no one should be pushed back into the shadows.”
"I have learned to navigate the world being an undocumented person without protection, but it’s difficult and no one should be pushed back into the shadows.”
She protested last month to send a clear message to Congress that successful, bright, young Americans like herself are willing to sacrifice everything to see the Dream Act pass. “We can’t wait any longer,” she said. “We need Schumer and the Dems to show their courage as well to pledge a no vote on the spending bill if Dream is not included.”
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While there are some progressive and positive measures on the table in the Senate, there are also some aspects that would change the way legal immigration happens in this country, thereby changing the concept of the American dream and the future demographics of our country. Make no mistake: the current agreement in the Senate has high stakes, and pushing it through without scrutiny would echo into future generations, making America more isolationist than the founding fathers ever could have intended.
“No Dreamer we know wants to trade off their own ability to live without fear for increased enforcement on their parents, siblings, or loved ones.”
The proposed bipartisan agreement in the Senate would give dreamers a path to citizenship. They’d have 10-to-12 years with a work permit, during which time they could get a green card, and eventually, citizenship. Also in this deal is a three-year work permit for the parents of Dreamers, which is seen as a win for pro-immigrant groups, like Define American, which is devoted to shifting the kinds of conversations we have around immigration.
“No Dreamer we know wants to trade off their own ability to live without fear for increased enforcement on their parents, siblings, or loved ones,” Ryan Eller, Executive Director of Define American, told VICE Impact.
So granting this three-year stay of deportation to parents would alleviate much of that heartache.
“This three-year work permit for parents is significant,” said Kristian Ramos, Communications Director at Define American, “in that it is for lack of a better word, humane towards the situation. It allows people to get their lives together. Family members can legally transfer deeds and houses over. I didn’t think we would ever get this under this administration.”
The third big win for pro-immigrant groups is that it would offer a potential reprieve to people who were granted TPS (Temporary Protected Status). On January 8, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it would end TPS for the approximately 200,000 Salvadorans who came to this country to escape extreme violence in El Salvador. For many of these people, a return to El Salvador could mean death. In the Senate’s current bill, these TPS holders may be eligible to apply for green cards.
Before progressives do a victory dance and push their representatives to pass this at all costs, it’s essential to actually look at the costs. This bipartisan bill, crafted by three Democrats and three Republicans, is certainly an attempt to protect hundreds of thousands of people currently in the country. But if it were to pass as is, it would also include $1.6 billion to fund a border wall and it would be an overhaul of the current legal immigration system, affecting the diversity lottery and family-based migration, which is a cornerstone of not only immigration policy in this country, but also the identity of this country more broadly.
"It is un-American to do away with family-based migration. Making those changes would give in to the anti-immigrant hate groups that are supplying this administration with a lot of their policy.”
The diversity lottery was formed in 1990 to ensure that people from a wide variety of countries are able to come to the U.S. each year. 50,000 visas are issued per year, to a pool of millions of applicants. Recipients are randomly selected and then subjected to a background check before they are issued a green card.
President Trump has repeatedly called for an end to the diversity lottery, and the idea in this Senate deal is that some of those 50,000 green cards could potentially be re-allocated elsewhere. That’s where TPS recipients could benefit -- maybe.
Family-based migration, which is being branded by anti-immigrant groups as chain migration, is how most of us ended up in this country. A parent or grandparent comes first, gets a job and finds housing, and then sponsors their children to come join them.
“Family-based migration has been the lynchpin of our immigration system,” said Ramos. “That’s how people come legally to the U.S. It is un-American to do away with family-based migration. Making those changes would give in to the anti-immigrant hate groups that are supplying this administration with a lot of their policy.”
But the struggle for immigration reform has been going on for decades, and the marathon-runner-activists who have stayed with it remain optimistic even though Trump rejected the bipartisan deal proposed by the Senate, and there’s little reason to believe the House would support it. On Monday, Trump tweeted that DACA was “probably dead” and blamed Democrats who he said wanted to “take desperately needed money away from our military”. Still, if the last week in DACA news has taught us anything, it’s that the president can say something one minute and do the opposite the next.
“There is reason for hope,” said Eller, “if lawmakers can find their way to a negotiation that doesn’t trade off one person’s freedom for another, and finally in these closing weeks include some undocumented voices in the conversation. There are people in Congress that want to ‘Make America White Again’, and immigration is tied up in that. There’s a clear connection between the diversification of our country and immigration. They’d like to turn back the clock, but that’s never been who we are as a nation so I am hopeful.”
Weigh in on this issue by contacting your member of Congress, and make sure they know how you feel about family-based migration as well as the status of Dreamers. Support the #ourdream campaign with actions across the country.