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AUSTIN, Texas — The fate of nearly a million undocumented youth is in the hands of the legislative branch. Leaving tasks up to Congress isn’t reassuring but now that President Trump put an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), there is no other recourse.
In 2012 President Obama enacted DACA as a second-best option while a more comprehensive immigration reform could be delivered. Executive orders, unlike laws passed by Congress, can be changed or scrapped by the different executives that come through the White House. And from a policy standpoint, DACA was only meant to be a band-aid to be used while Congress could pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Five years later, comprehensive immigration reform has yet to happen and won’t anytime soon. This means that the immigration piece that protects undocumented youth needs its stand-alone legislation.
The idea of a stand-alone legislative act that protects undocumented youth is not new. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) was first introduced back in 2001. Over the course of the following 16 years, the DREAM Act has been introduced and/or voted on about a dozen different times. The last time the DREAM Act saw any legislative action was in 2010. The Democratically controlled House of Representatives passed the bill but the Senate fell four votes short of cloture enabling the DREAM Act to move forward for a vote.
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Efforts at reviving the DREAM Act were taken up again in 2011 but they sputtered. In response to the congressional impasse, President Obama issued his executive order on DACA. The intent of DACA was to protect the most vulnerable immigrants—undocumented youth—until a comprehensive solution could be hammered out.
A real fix, a comprehensive solution, to immigration almost came into being in 2013. The Senate, led by the Gang of Eight passed a bill but it ended up dying in the House. The lack of interest in the House of Representatives for comprehensive reform meant immigration policy would have to limp along with DACA.
And limp along it has. Since 2013, there has not been any significant movement on immigration reform. This inaction is in part due to a lack of interest from the Republican-controlled Congress. The other part is that once DACA was implemented, the urgency of immigration reform went down from critical to critical yet stable.
Now, that President Trump has ended DACA, there is no net and the only option is a legislative move. Getting anything passed in Congress, especially such a hot-button issue as immigration is near impossible. But given the current political context the stars just may be aligning.
Here’s the good news — the President, Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader have all indicated their support of a DREAM Act. There is strong political will on the part of these Republican leaders. There is also very strong support by Democrats in Congress.
Ironically, immigration reform in the form of the DREAM Act could be an issue that brings bipartisan as well as congressional, executive cooperation.
The bad news is that there is a small but vocal group of Republicans who want nothing to do with the DREAM Act. Former Senator and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the poster child of not wanting any piece of something that even remotely smells like DACA, as he showed when he made the announcement that the administration was scrapping the program in six months.
Add to the DREAMer detractors the general difficulty of getting anything through Congress.
It won’t be easy to supplant DACA with a legislative solution. But there’s no other option — it’s do or die time for Congress to do the right thing by way of our immigrant youth.