Washington, DC – Last week, the conservative 5th Circuit ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was unlawful, but sent the case back to the lower court instead of killing it outright at this moment. For now, thankfully, those with DACA can retain and renew their status. But there should be no mistaking the implications of the ruling and the larger context and motivations of the Republican Party that has sought to undermine and end DACA for a decade. Below are four key points about DACA, Dreamers, and what’s next:
- Republicans’ legal attacks on DACA, congressional obstruction against Dreamers’ citizenship and anti-immigrant campaigning has led to this moment
- DACA is incredibly successful and strengthens our economy, while support for Dreamers is deep, durable and bipartisan among Americans
- DACA and protecting Dreamers has created a powerful opening for Democrats to engage on immigration this cycle, including in homestretch outreach to Latino voters
- A legislative fix is necessary this year, especially if Republicans win one or both Houses of Congress in November. In the lame duck, prepare for the latest version of the age-old GOP “border security first” excuses for delay and inaction.
Point 1: Republicans’ legal attacks on DACA, congressional obstruction against Dreamers’ citizenship and anti-immigrant campaigning has led to this moment
Despite the proven successes and popularity of DACA and other measures that provide opportunities for Dreamers to more fully participate in American life, Republicans remain hellbent on stripping protections and blocking legislative solutions for Dreamers:
- In courts: spearheaded by embattled Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton and other GOP controlled states, Republicans have attacked DACA for years, relying on the anti-immigrant judicial pipeline. Now, they are close to their goal of ending the program.
- In Congress, the GOP continues to block legislation to make Dreamers full citizens, as they have done for more than a decade, having blocked Dreamer legislation that passed the Senate in 2006, the House in 2010 and 2020 and the Senate in 2013.
- And on the campaign trail, Republicans’ midterm homestretch message is centered on dangerous immigrants coming to get Americans and louder, shriller dog whistles on crime and safety. Hundreds of ads and millions of GOP dollars are being spent portraying immigrants and asylum seekers as dangerous “invaders” seeking to “replace” white Americans. DACA and Dreamers’ stories and successes undercut the lies and scare tactics on display.
Point 2: DACA is incredibly successful and strengthens our economy, while support for Dreamers is deep, durable and bipartisan among Americans
Since DACA’s creation in 2012, more than 800,000 Dreamers have relied on DACA’s protections from deportation and work permits and other opportunities to gain a more official foothold in the country they call home.
- DACA’s economic impact
- The end of DACA would mean the end of work permits for tens of thousands of Dreamers at a time when there are more than 340,000 “essential” workers with DACA across the country, including 15,000 K-12 teachers during a time of severe teacher shortages and 34,000 health care workers with DACA providing patient care.
- $9.4 billion in taxes: CAP analysis finds that DACA recipient households pay $6.2 billion in federal taxes and $3.3 billion in state and local taxes each year.
- One thousand jobs lost per day: If and when DACA is eliminated, an average of 1,000 U.S. jobs will be lost every business day over two years, according to analysis by FWD.us.
- The lives and stories behind the economic data. As important as the economic statistics are, the most powerful cases for DACA and permanent legal status for Dreamers remains the stories and first person testimonials of Dreamers and affected families:
- “The 5th circuit ruling cruelly keeps DACA recipients like myself in limbo and on the constant edge of uncertainty about my future. It is infuriating to have my life and that of other DACA recipients rely on the whims of right-wing judges. But despite what nativist politicians might think, I am already home.” – Yuna Oh, DACA recipient and Political Associate for America’s Voice
- “DACA recipients can’t continue living from court ruling to court ruling. It’s too much not knowing whether you’ll be able to keep building on the life you have because of DACA. It’s never been enough and DACA recipients, among millions more, deserve stability and permanence.” – Mario Carrillo, the spouse of a DACA recipient and the Campaigns Director for America’s Voice
- DACA and legal status for Dreamers is very popular in poll after poll. As you can see in this round-up of polling over recent years, more than 70% of Americans support Dreamers’ protections, permanent legal status and citizenship. Support is strong across ideologies and parties and is enduring, despite Republican attacks.
Point 3: DACA and protecting Dreamers has created a powerful opening for Democrats to engage on immigration this cycle, including in homestretch outreach to Latino voters
During an election season in which Republicans’ relentless lies and focus on the border is the dominant focus of immigration-related discussion in the midterms, DACA and Dreamer issues are an important subject for Democrats to lean into as they push for a long-overdue legislative fix. Meanwhile, though Democrats have the decided advantage with Latino voters in the 2022 midterms, many Republicans predict the GOP will make inroads with Hispanic voters this cycle – a goal at direct odds with the GOP’s demonstrated hostility to Dreamers.
- Sen. Mark Kelly models how Democrats can lean in on DACA/Dreamers issues: During the October Senate debate in Arizona, incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly leaned into his support for Dreamers and blasted Blake Masters’ opposition to Dreamers’ citizenship (video clip): Said Kelly: “We have tens of thousands of Dreamers here in the state of Arizona that are as American as my own two kids. My daughter lives in Tucson, my granddaughter lives in Tucson – I think of Dreamers no different. My opponent Blake Masters, on the other hand, he said he would never offer citizenship to Dreamers. I think it’s mean and it’s fundamentally un-American.”
- Hostility to Dreamers underscores GOP extremism in numerous races, such as Nevada Senate: Beyond Arizona, Nevada GOP Senate nominee Adam Laxalt is the former AG who joined Nevada onto the Texas-led lawsuit against DACA that has kept Dreamers in continued limbo and threatens to officially end the popular and successful DACA program in the very near future. Note that Laxalt even ran radio ads in Las Vegas and Elko during the contested GOP Senate primary touting his hostility to Dreamers.
- Protection for Dreamers can be a key ingredient of Democrats’ homestretch outreach to Latino voters: Like other segments of electorate, Latino voters rank issues such as the economy and abortion higher than immigration as their top motivating issues. However, Latino voters’ overwhelming levels of support for Dreamers shows why the issue can be a clarifying point of contrast in the homestretch.
- September Pew Research Center polling found that 81% of Latino adults think it’s either “very important” (53%) or “somewhat important” (28%) to allow “immigrants who came to the country illegally as children to remain in the United States and apply for legal status.”
- August polling from Hart Research and BSP Research of battleground voters in key Senate and House battlegrounds, conducted for the Immigration Hub and SEIU, found that 78% of Latino battleground voters want Congress to act “to protect Dreamers if a federal court overturns the DACA program.”
Point 4: A legislative fix is necessary this year, especially if Republicans win one or both Houses of Congress in November. In the lame duck, prepare for the latest version of the age-old GOP “border security first” excuses for delay and inaction.
If Republicans take one or both Houses of Congress, they are not likely to allow legislation to protect Dreamers or other immigrants in the new Congress. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the likely Speaker if Republicans take over, has pledged to not let any “amnesty” legislation reach the floor. With an eye to the huge popularity of DACA and Dreamers, this puts pressure on Republicans to arrive at a deal to protect them before assuming the reins of the legislature. Conversely, the pressure to act during a lame duck session is high for Democrats as well. They will not want to be blamed for the job loss and deportation of Dreamers – let alone be forced to carry out deportations – with a Democrat in the Whote House. So both parties, in addition to affected families and the nation’s economy, need a legislative solution this year.
Despite the urgent need for a legislative fix – which has been on the table for more than a decade – we also need to recognize the way Republicans will argue why they need to delay or derail such legislation, using their latest “border first” excuse:
- Preparing for the 2022 version of the GOP “border security first” excuse on DACA/Dreamers: For as long as legal status for Dreamers has been proposed, Republicans have dusted off the “border security first” canard. It’s a coded way to say “legalization never.” For many candidates, it’s a way to avoid answering what to do regarding Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants in the nation. Practiced by John Cornyn and others, the GOP riff goes like this:
- “We can’t reform immigration until the border is secure, but the border can be deemed ‘not yet secure’ because some people still get across or are able to lawfully claim asylum at ports of entry. Therefore we can’t move forward on immigration reform for long-settled immigrants in the country until the border is secure first.”
- Throw in a few lines about “Biden’s open borders” and you’ve got the ingredients of what many GOPers might say, potentially alongside some rhetorical support for DACA students among some moderates. It gives a policy-sounding argument for Republicans to continually move the goalposts so that nothing is done for Dreamers, farm workers, essential workers, and the rest of the undocumented immigrants settled in our nation – and delays fixing the underlying immigration system which has generated the large pool of deeply rooted undocumented immigrants in the first place. As the Wall Street Journal once editorialized: the real goal of Republicans who claim we must ‘secure the border first’ “isn’t border security. It is to use border security as an excuse to kill immigration reform.”
- Why the border and asylum policies are important but separate issues: Yes, there are important discussions about managing the border in a safe, orderly and humane manner and ensuring a functional, safe, and efficient asylum processing program. These involve wider legal channels for immigrants and refugees, which Republicans have come to generally oppose. But reaching solutions that both parties and the American people can support means moving past scapegoats, scare tactics, and stunts. The real policy conversations about border and asylum policies should not derail the long-overdue need for a legislative fix for Dreamers and their families and the thousands of employers large and small who rely on valued employees with DACA and work permits. In fact, legal status for deeply rooted immigrants in the U.S. will take pressure off of the border by allowing more people who are close relatives to petition for and receive – eventually – a visa so they do not feel their only option for coming to the U.S. is by walking across Mexico. Rather than “border security” per se, it is the legal immigration of people who are harder to attack politically that troubles many Republicans, so they will drag their feet or affirmatively fight for the status quo.
None of this is easy and the increasingly partisan nature of the immigration issue makes progress in the short- or long-run less likely, yet the prospect of Dreamers with DACA being forced to relinquish jobs and careers, remove their talents from the economy or even remove themselves from the nation should focus Congress on a genuine crisis, achievable legislative fixes and the prospect of facing an avoidable tragedy.