Despite rampant confusion over what exactly President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders agreed to at a dinner at the White House this week, the debate over the fate of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors has shifted significantly in their favor.
“The momentum is with Dreamers and with their allies,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a leading immigrant advocacy group.
At the same time, Trump’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remains in effect, casting fear and anxiety in immigrant families, and major questions remain as to whether the Republican-controlled Congress will introduce legislative solutions that will include “border security” and other provisions, including some on legal immigration, that will kill prospects for passage.
“So far what we see are key members of Congress pretending that they want to pass DACA legislation while doing everything they can to block it,” Sharry said.
But just 10 days ago the situation appeared more dire for the nearly 800,000 young immigrants who had received relief from deportation and were granted work permits as a result of the DACA program.
In a tough law and order stand, Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared the program over, but gave current DACA recipients a six- month grace period, during which time he challenged Congress to pass legislation to allow them to stay in the United States.
At the time it seemed that expecting Congress to act on such an emotional and complicated issue seemed wildly unrealistic, in light of its track record on any number of other issues, not only in the current term, but in several others preceding it.
Although it was notable that Sessions rather than the president made the announcement, Trump also issued a statement strongly backing the phase-out of the program.
But within hours Trump began backtracking, tweeting that if Congress failed to act he would “revisit the issue.”
Since then, Trump has made it clear that he supports finding a way to protect DACA recipients from deportation — remarkably even willing to give them a pathway to citizenship, according to initial statements by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, based on their conversations with Trump.
The White House now says it doesn’t support the idea of a pathway to citizenship. But Congress has been mobilized on the broader legalization issue, with bipartisan discussions underway to find a solution.
The missing piece, and one Trump appears not to have thought through completely, is that he will need Republican leadership to take the lead on the issue.
As much as he might now prefer to talk with his newly found legislative allies, Schumer and Pelosi, ultimately it will be up to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to introduce legislation and get their respective GOP caucuses on board.
Getting legislation through Congress will face numerous pitfalls. Advocacy groups are now pushing for passage of what they call a “clean” Dream Act, such as the bipartisan legislation introduced by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. They worry that Republicans opposed to legalization will include expensive and punitive border enforcement provisions in the legislation, including some related to the “border wall” that Trump is still pushing, and even more controversial efforts to curtail legal immigration, which Trump has endorsed. These provisions would effectively kill prospects for passage.
Also unknown at the moment is what impact the multiple lawsuits to block implementation of Trump’s recission of DACA will have on the legislative and political landscape. A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in any one of the cases, including one filed by the University of California, would further increase momentum in the direction of Dreamers.
For now, however, some DACA recipients face tight deadlines that many will find hard to meet. Under the terms of the repeal plan announced by Trump last week, Dreamers whose waivers from deportation run out over the next six months have until Oct. 5 to apply for a two-year renewal. Those whose waivers from deportation expire after March 5 next year still face major uncertainties, as they await quick Congressional action on an issue that lawmakers have been stuck on for decades.
But in another indication of the shifting tides, the Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke is reviewing possibly extending the Oct. 5 deadline, according to a Politico report, although a DHS official stressed that the current deadline is in still in effect.