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Dream Act: What Do We Want and When Do We Want It? (Immigration 101)


At America’s Voice and within the immigration reform movement, one of the main things we’ve been focused on this fall is passing the Dream Act. Advocates across the country have mobilized and won support from members of Congress, 800 college and university presidents have signed a letter to support action, 60 companies have joined an effort pushing Congress to pass legislation, and much more.

We’ve explained what the Dream Act is here. But if you’d like a primer on what exactly we’re hoping to accomplish, politically, by the end of the year, keep reading.

What do we want?

Dreamers and advocates want a clean Dream Act by the end of 2017.

It’s crucial that any piece of legislation for Dreamers not include anti-immigrant measures like draconian immigration enforcement or so-called border security measures that harm border communities. Dreamers have made it clear that they don’t want protection for themselves if it means deportation for their parents, families, or friends. That’s a trade-off no one should have to make.

The Dream Act is our preferred bill, but there are many other versions of Dreamer legislation introduced in Congress. The Dream Act refers to a specific, bipartisan bill — and is often used as shorthand for the pro-Dreamer legislation that advocates want. Republican-drafted versions of Dreamer legislation include the Bridge Act and the RAC Act (there’s an explainer of the differences here). There could also be additional bills introduced or brought up for consideration.

Republican leaders have not committed to a timeline to pass Dreamer legislation, or come to the negotiating table to begin discussing what they’re willing to support. So far, they’ve only talked about what they don’t want to do. Democrats and Republicans will have to work with each other to pass legislation, but we can’t start on that road unless Republicans agree to avoid poison pills that lead to more deportations and agree take up Dreamer legislation this year.

When do we need it?

Even though a supermajority of Americans — including a supermajority of Republicans — support the Dream Act, and even though a majority of the members of Congress would vote for it if the bill came on the floor, passing the Dream Act is not going to be straightforward or easy.

That’s because Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, no profile in courage when it comes to leading his caucus, has committed to not calling a vote on any bill unless a majority of Republicans support it. That means that the Dream Act, despite politically and policy-wise making a lot of sense, is unlikely to get an up-or-down vote on its own.

Instead, the Dream Act (or other piece of Dreamer legislation) will likely need to be bundled with other legislation that is considered must-pass. One option is to attach it  the omnibus spending bill that must be passed before the end of the year.  Republicans, and Trump, recently said that they are unwilling to attach the Dream Act to the omnibus; advocates have pushed back fiercely, pointing out that the omnibus is probably the single best chance to pass the Dream Act. If Republicans want to pass legislation for Dreamers — if they don’t want to be complicit in the deportation of young immigrants — they should seize the opportunity presented by the omnibus.

Why do we want it?

We published a more in-depth explanation here, but basically, the current Dream Act crisis started on September 5, 2017, when Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

DACA had been in place since 2012, when President Obama created the program via executive action. DACA really only did two things — protect Dreamers from deportation, and give them work permits so that they could legally hold jobs. But given that opportunity, Dreamers flourished, finding jobs, earning raises, buying cars, owning homes, and helping their families.

Trump’s cancellation of DACA means that all 800,000 Dreamers who currently have DACA will eventually see their work permits expire and become at risk for deportation. Advocates estimate that around 1,000 Dreamers will lose status every single day. By March 6, 2020, the entire DACA-mented population will be back in the shadows again. We’re not even talking about younger Dreamers who would have aged into DACA but now will never have a chance to apply.N

That’s why we need the Dream Act, or another piece of legislation that gives Dreamers legal status, puts them on the path to citizenship, and allows them to continue working and living without fear of deportation. Dreamers and immigrants benefit the United States. If Republicans fail to pass the Dream Act, the deportation of Dreamers will be a very, very real consequence. If Republicans don’t schedule legislative action for the Dream Act, via the omnibus or some other must-pass bill, then every vote to fund the US government for 2018 will be a vote to deport Dreamers.