Senate fails to pass protections for “Dreamers”

Last week, the United States Senate brought forward four bills that sought to end the current debate on immigration and protect the nearly 690,000 undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. known as “Dreamers.” These “Dreamers” are in the United States legally under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action, but these four bills would have kept them from potential deportation. None of the bills were able to garner the 60 votes needed to advance past debate.

Out of all states, Oregon has the 14th most DACA recipients. As of March 2017, 11,281 recipients live in the state, according to the Department of Homeland Security. This number equates to roughly 27.6 people for every 10,000, according to GOVERNING, a media platform which writes about government issues. Using these calculations, roughly 276 “Dreamers” could be living in Douglas County.

The bills proposed last week varied strongly in ideology from one endorsed by the President, to one drafted by a bipartisan coalition.

The most “dovish” (pacifist) on immigration was a joint bill crafted by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and John McCain (R-AZ) which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came here as children. This bill offered no money for the President’s proposed border wall. The bill failed 52 to 47, with Democrats voting near unanimously in favor and Republicans voting against.

The second vote was on a bill from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), which neither addressed DACA nor the wall, but instead focused on sanctuary cities. Toomey’s bill would penalize sanctuary cities: a city which limits its cooperation with the national government to enforce immigration laws. Toomey’s bill said that the federal government should withhold any federal funding for cities that refused to enforce the federal immigration laws. The amendment failed 54 to 45, with mostly Republican support and Democratic opposition.

Trump’s endorsed bill, the Grassley eponymous bill, written by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), was the most “hawkish” (aggressive) on immigration. It included not only the same protections for the 1.8 million immigrants that the Coons-McCain bill did, but it also provided $25 billion to fund the border wall. Where the Grassley bill really stood out from the others was in its proposed cuts to legal immigration. It sought to curtail family immigration and end the Diversity Immigrant Visa program- a program that aims to diversify the immigrant population by offering visas to applicants from countries with low numbers of immigrants. The Senate voted down the President’s preferred plan 39 to 60.

The “Common Sense” plan, crafted by the bipartisan Common Sense Caucus, was the most likely to get the votes to pass. Led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and sponsored by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the plan had similar characteristics of the other plans: a pathway to citizenship and $25 billion for border security. Where the plan differed is that it would have dictated Immigration and Custom Enforcement to turn their efforts away from undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. without any criminal records. But the President threatened to veto the plan if it ever got to his desk, so it failed 54 to 45.

The tipping point of the argument came last month when the government shut down. On Jan. 20, the one-year anniversary of the Trump presidency, Congress failed to pass a budget. The shutdown began when the Senate failed to overcome a Democratic filibuster stemming from the extension of DACA and the funding of “The Wall.” The shutdown ended after only two days of negotiations when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gave Democrats a promise of a debate on the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act is how DACA began. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act is a proposal, first introduced in 2001, for a multi-phased process that would grant qualified “alien” minors conditional residency in the U.S. and, if they met further requirements, permanent residency. After years of debate, without any form of the act ever passing both chambers, President Obama decided to take it upon himself to do something; in 2012, he signed DACA through executive order. DACA was created as a way to protect undocumented immigrants who met certain criteria proposed in the DREAM Act from deportation. Eight criteria were presented: is under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012, came to the U.S. while under the age of 16, continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to the present, entered the U.S. without inspection or fell out of lawful visa status before June 15, 2012, were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces, have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors of any kind, and do not pose a threat to national security or public safety.

DACA has been a highly contested issue. Throughout the campaign, Trump promised he’d end the program if elected. Last September, he did exactly that. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the public announcement that the Trump administration would be rescind the DACA program.

In his remarks, Sessions made some statements about the program that were seen to be less than truthful; NBC News provided some fact checking for his claims. Sessions stated that DACA was an “unconstitutional exercise of authority”; this seems to be his opinion as the Supreme Court has never ruled on it. He also claimed the program “provided a legal status for recipients.” This isn’t exactly true as the program only considers recipients to be “lawfully present” which is not the same as legal status. The Attorney General also stated that DACA is “unilateral executive amnesty.” This couldn’t be further from the truth as amnesty is a “blanket pardon to all members of a defined class.” In contrast, those on DACA must apply and be approved for their status; their relief is only temporary and does not provide a pathway to citizenship.   

Following Sessions’ announcement, the President tweeted that “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA.” This six-month deadline was later clarified to be March 5, 2018. Some believe this deadline means that come March 5th, all DACA work permits will expire, but this is inaccurate. What the deadline really means is that the already slow unraveling of DACA will get faster. The Migration Policy Institute has estimated that  122 immigrants each day have had their DACA-issued work permits expire since October, due to being unable to apply for renewal. The Institute expects that, over the next two years starting on March 5, that number will jump to an average of 915. But with recent court decisions, it might not end up being that drastic. A pair of recent court orders have slowed the unraveling by allowing those on DACA to apply for two-year renewals. Because of this, it’s impossible to know how many people will actually lose their permits.

On February 26, the Supreme Court dealt a blow to the administration; the Court declined to take up its case on DACA. It said that an appeals court must take the case before S.C.O.T.U.S. considers it. This result means that for the time being, DACA will stay in place.