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DACA Ruling Leaves No Alternative: Only Congress Can Fix It

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Momentum is building for a legislative breakthrough on pathways to citizenship this year – an imperative made all the more urgent following Judge Andrew Hanen’s decision issued last Friday that rules DACA unlawful and cuts off approvals of first-time applicants. 

Leading Democrats across the party support the inclusion of pathways to citizenship legislation in the budget agreement. The Senate Budget Committee resolution announced early last week the legalization of Dreamers, TPS holders, and farm workers and other essential workers. Economic analyses underscore why delivering on citizenship will contribute to our economic recovery. Polling shows that legislation creating pathways to citizenship is popular with voters from across the political spectrum. 

Below, we highlight five key points, each of which we expand on in the below memo.

  1. Following Judge Hanen’s DACA ruling, we’re in a break-glass moment. 
  2. Citizenship legislation will produce substantial economic and fiscal benefits for America.
  3. Americans strongly back citizenship and reject “border first” excuses for inaction.
  4. Democrats are united and gearing up to deliver.
  5. Republicans’ bad faith and ugly politicization shows why Democrats should act alone.

Following Judge Hanen’s DACA ruling, we’re in a break-glass moment to deliver legislation and citizenship

  • Judge Hanen’s DACA ruling imperils the lives and futures of millions. Following the DACA ruling by GOP appointee and Texas Judge Andrew Hanen, the lives of young immigrants who are American in all but paperwork are under severe legal threat. It’s only a matter of time before the conservative judiciary ends executive actions such as DACA. Only Congress can enact a permanent solution and millions of lives and futures hang in the balance. And given Republicans’ proven hostility, it’s up to Democrats.
  • Republicans are responsible but Democrats have to deliver: “failure is not an option.” As Frank Sharry stated after the Hanen ruling, “This is a break-glass moment. Democrats have to enact legislation this year to create pathways to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, farm workers and essential workers. Democrats, we know you support pathways to citizenship for millions, but it’s not enough to simply support such measures. We need a long overdue breakthrough, a concrete result, a piece of legislation signed into law. You have the majority and we plead with you to use every ounce of your power … You’ve created the vehicle, now drive it across the finish line. It’s up to you. Failure is not an option.”

Citizenship legislation will produce substantial economic and fiscal benefits for America

  • Recent analysis from the Center for American Progress summarizes why delivering citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, and farm workers and other essential workers, “would result in big economic benefits for all Americans — and it can and should be done through the budget reconciliation process.” The CAP analysis finds that a pathway to citizenship for these groups “would add a cumulative $1.5 trillion to U.S. GDP over a decade and create just more than 400,000 new jobs. By the end of a decade after passage, all Americans would see higher wages by an annual $600.”
  • Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cost estimates on HR 6, the American Dream and Promise Act – a measure that includes Dreamers and TPS holders only (not farm workers and other essential workers) finds that HR 6 would have a measurable impact on the budget and reduce the deficit by $3.34 billion over five years and $7.15 billion over ten years. 
  • Immigration should have the green light from the parliamentarian. There’s a precedent. In 2005, a Republican Senate passed a version of what became the Deficit Reduction Act through reconciliation, containing several relevant immigration provisions (see here for more). Had the measure passed, it would have led to a significant expansion of green cards. Leading Democrats are expressing confidence as well. This from Bloomberg: Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said, “We have a very strong argument to make that it is relevant and would fit within the rules of the budget reconciliation process.” Rep. Adriano Espaillat noted, “We will have a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C and a Plan D. We’re not just sticking to one scope of how many folks would be impacted. We’ll try to include as many folks as possible.”

American public overwhelmingly backs citizenship and rejects “border first” excuses for inaction.

  • Citizenship proposals reflected in Democrats’ budget enjoy 70% support, including a majority of Republican voters. Polling consistently finds that citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, and farm workers and other essential workers garners approximately 70% support, including a majority of Independents and Republicans.
  • The American public rejects the “border first” argument and wants progress on citizenship and a safe and well-managed border. The American people reject the GOP’s core “border security first” excuse for inaction on citizenship and instead want Congress to formally recognize settled undocumented immigrants as the Americans they already are and support humane solutions to the challenges at the border. A recent NPR piece on NPR/Ipsos polling is headlined, “Despite Concerns About Border, Poll Finds Support For More Pathways To Citizenship” and highlighted polling that found:
    • 71% of Americans support citizenship for “farmworkers and other essential workers” (61% of Republicans); 70% support citizenship for TPS holders (60% of Republicans); and 66% support citizenship for “undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children” (54% of Republicans).
    • While 79% of the public believes “the current situation at the border is a problem,” views are more complex than the GOP’s “keep em all out” position: 73% are concerned about “ensuring proper care for unaccompanied migrant children detained at the border” and 60% are concerned about “reuniting migrant families who were separated at the border by the Trump administration.”
    • By a 10-point margin, Americans support Democratic vision on immigration and border over Republican vision in head-to-head polling. In a recent battleground poll conducted by Global Strategy Group, Hart Research, and BSP Research for America’s Voice and colleagues, researchers put the Democratic and Republican immigration narratives up against each other in a head-to-head. Even after months of “Biden border crisis” hype from the right wing media ecosystem (and too many in the mainstream media), voters prefer the Democrats’ approach by a 55-45% margin. See the poll memo here.

Democrats – from Manchin to AOC – are united and gearing up to deliver on immigration

  • On Capitol Hill, leaders in both the House and Senate and members across the ideological spectrum are supportive of including immigration in the budget agreement and finding a way forward this year with a 51-vote vehicle – from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)
  • Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has reiterated this week that an immigration breakthrough is an administration priority and expressed support for a reconciliation vehicle to move it forward.
  • President Biden reiterated the urgency and endorsed the reconciliation vehicle following the Judge Hanen ruling, stating: “I have repeatedly called on Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, and I now renew that call with the greatest urgency. It is my fervent hope that through reconciliation or other means, Congress will finally provide security to all Dreamers, who have lived too long in fear.”

Republicans’ bad faith and ugly politicization vs. Democrats’ vision of solutions

  • Bipartisan immigration negotiations are going nowhere due to John Cornyn and Republicans’ bad faith. Sen. John Cornyn is dusting off the “Cornyn Con” – posturing and pretending he’s working toward a bipartisan breakthrough while trying to delay and derail immigration legislation. Thankfully, Senator Dick Durbin and Democrats aren’t falling for it and are calling out the GOP bad faith efforts. Republicans in Congress aren’t interested in helping Democrats solve the immigration challenge in 2021. They are planning to run on immigration against Democrats in 2022. 
  • GOP immigration vision driven by politics, based on cruelty, lies, and fear. The Republicans’ immigration vision consists of ugly fear-mongering about immigrants as criminals, terrorists and gangbangers; lies about “open borders,” “catch and release” and wildly exaggerated claims of the effectiveness of Trump’s lawless and cruel policies. Republicans’ real aim: to deploy racism and xenophobia strategically to stoke white grievance voters in the midterms. They seem to forget that Trump nationalized the midterms in 2018 around “caravans and criminals” and suffered the largest midterm defeat in American history. He ran on nativism in 2020 and lost to the pro-immigrant candidate by 7 million votes.
  • The Biden and Democrats’ plan on immigration. There’s a great deal more for the Biden administration to do on immigration and the border, given the mess they inherited from Trump and Stephen Miller. But Biden and Democrats are making progress: on a legislative push to deliver citizenship for millions of long-settled immigrants; on a regional approach to forced migration from Central America since the real crisis is in the countries from which migrants and refugees leave; and on putting the pieces in place to forge a well-managed border that creates an immigration, refugee and asylum process that is fair, safe, orderly and humane. 

Bottom Line: After two decades of debate, discussion and “almost,” these factors are lining up to yield a breakthrough on citizenship for immigrants – this year. It now seems possible that Democrats in Congress can overcome Republican opposition to deliver a popular bill to the desk of a President who will sign it.