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Will There Be Any Relief for DREAMers this Election Year? Only the President Can Make it Happen

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From Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) to dozens of Senate Democrats, there is growing consensus that something needs to be done to address the status of young undocumented immigrants who grew up here and call this country home, but lack the papers that allow them to move forward with their lives. Unfortunately, the impossibility of such legislation passing the House of Representatives in an election year means that the only option for relief lies with President Obama.

Rubio Tries to Rehabilitate the GOP on Immigration, But Members of his Own Party Stand in the Way

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced months ago a “conservative” version of the DREAM Act, which he plans to introduce this summer.  He says that addressing the status of young undocumented immigrants who grew up here and consider themselves American is a “humanitarian issue,” and that his bill should pass in time for school to start in the fall.  Rubio is right that this is a humanitarian issue, and the fall is a fine deadline.  The fact is, we should have stabilized these young people’s lives a long time ago.

Yet despite the growing consensus that it is in the national interest to help these young people, neither the DREAM Act nor the Rubio bill (if it’s ever introduced) will become law before the election.  With rabidly anti-immigrant Members in charge of the House Judiciary Committee, Speaker Boehner (R-OH) has already dismissed the Rubio plan and even Representative Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R-TX) told Telemundo that “there is no support in the House, right now.”

If Congress Won’t Act, The President Must

We can only hope that a rebooted Congress will finally have the political will to tackle and fix our nation’s failed, counterproductive immigration laws.  Until then, the President should use every tool at his disposal to keep these young people from deportation and let them go to college, serve in the military, and continue giving back to this country.

This week, nearly 100 law professors sent a letter to the President stating that “the Executive Branch has the authority to grant … three forms of administrative relief to some significant number of DREAM Act beneficiaries, and … it has done so both historically and recently in similar situations.”  This follows a similar memo written by former INS officials and other top immigration lawyers that came to the same conclusion.  In 2011, nearly two dozen Democratic senators also sent a letter to the President calling for him to use his executive authority to protect “all young people who meet the rigorous requirements necessary to be eligible for cancellation of removal or a stay of removal under the DREAM Act, as requested on a bipartisan basis by Senators Durbin and Lugar last April.”

Cheryl Little, Executive Director of Americans for Immigrant Justice (formerly the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center), was one of the first to point out that the Rubio idea is strikingly similar to the forms of administrative relief that President Obama has at his disposal today.  She wrote in the Miami Herald: “The type of limited status [Rubio] envisions doesn’t have to be passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) already has the discretionary power to grant potential Dreamers temporary legal status that can be renewed and allows them to work and drive legally.”

Doing so would be a well-placed Band-Aid.  As Little points out, Congress would have to follow it up with legislation to make their status permanent.  But that could be hashed out after the election.  As President Obama said so eloquently in his State of the Union speech, “If election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country.”

We agree.  Let’s do it.

Additional Resources

America’s Voice Education Fund — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.