Why the Fate of DACA Depends on a Clean Dream Act

September 18, 2017

By Mary Giovagnoli

On September 5, the Trump administration ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, phasing it out over the next six months to press Congress to act on a legislative solution before March 5, 2018. From that day forward, DACA expirations will not be renewed; roughly 1,400 individuals will lose their DACA protection each day. The vast majority of DACA recipients have no other avenue to remain in the country legally, which means the expiration of DACA puts them at risk of losing everything they have gained over the last five years, including jobs, educational opportunities, and a chance to fully contribute to U.S. society. The best avenue for efficiently and quickly resolving the dilemma rests with the Dream Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate by Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and in the House by Democrat Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) and Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27).

The Dream Act has been repeatedly introduced in Congress since 2001, although the specifics have varied over the years. The 2017 Dream Act is the most inclusive so far, offering a chance for permanent legal status to undocumented youth who arrived in the United States before their 18th birthday, meet other residency and security requirements, and fulfill military, educational, or work requirements. The Dream Act also recognizes the significance of the DACA experience, accelerating the initial steps for those already granted DACA. The Dream Act is self-contained, addressing only the issues relating to undocumented youth brought to the United States at a young age. In the past, it played a central role in broader comprehensive immigration reform packages, acting essentially as an accelerated legalization program for undocumented youth who had grown up in this country. Thus, it serves as a first step toward ultimately resolving our broader immigration issues.

But the future of at least 800,000 DACA recipients is now directly tied to the Dream Act becoming law. While there was no basis for rescinding DACA, the fact that the President took the step to end the program puts the country on a collision course toward an even more heartless deportation regime. Without the Dream Act, the ability to protect undocumented youth—who came forward in good faith—virtually disappears.

It was disheartening, then, to see the administration fail to endorse the Dream Act outright, and subsequent to the announcement, to continue sending mixed messages about whether a DACA fix had to be tied to border security or other enforcement measures. Instead, both the President and Attorney General Jeff Sessions endorsed the RAISE Act, one of the most mean-spirited and punitive immigration bills currently pending. The RAISE Act would slash legal immigration, undermine families, and tear apart the refugee program. Speaker Paul Ryan and other Congressional leaders quickly used the uncertainty caused by this mixed messaging to talk about tying the Dream Act to enforcement measures, arguing that there had to be a balance between enforcement and benefits. Most recently, reports suggest that Democratic leaders and the President are brokering a deal that protects DACA but adds more border security funding.

Act now on Connecting Our World to urge Congress to pass the Dream Act and protect DACA recipients

At NAFSA, we reject the idea of using Dream as an immigration bargaining chip in pursuit of the border wall or any other part of a punitive enforcement agenda. In fact, the ledger for the last twenty years reflects that Congress has been very active on enforcement, appropriating funds and expanding tools for removal countless times. A recent DHS report even demonstrates that the border between the U.S. and Mexico is more secure than ever. Given this data, it’s time that we begin to reset the balance by providing reasonable solutions on the benefits side, rather than the enforcement side of the immigration equation. For that reason, Dream—on its own—is the best and most sensible immigration measure Congress can take right now.

We get to a “clean” Dream Act, unfettered by enforcement amendments or border funding, by pressing our members of Congress to step up and support the current bill. Because of that, it’s important to distinguish between asking for a clean, unsullied bill, and understanding how the Dream Act might come to a vote. This kind of maneuvering is pretty inside-baseball—only the players on the team and the most avid watchers usually follow the complicated, arcane rules the House and the Senate have on ways of getting individuals bills to the floor. This is especially true when it comes to packaging bills together or attaching them to must-pass legislation like keeping the government open. We can’t let these highly technical Congressional rules detract from the necessity of keeping the pressure up and making it clear that the Dream Act on its own is a must-pass bill.

As the old saying goes, we need to keep those calls and letters coming, telling Congress that they must pass the Dream Act—now!


Mary Giovagnoli is the senior director for public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators.


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