Close to one million undocumented immigrants protected from deportation since 2012 could be stripped of that protection and removed from the United States within a year. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) established protections for immigrants who were brought into the country as children, colloquially referred to as Dreamers.
Democrats and Republicans battled over immigration reform and program status throughout 2021, accomplishing little. Immigration policies are poised to be a central campaign issue approaching midterm elections this coming November.
Given the turbulent year President Joe Biden’s administration has experienced regarding immigration reform in 2021, it seems likely that the battle over Dreamer citizenship will only intensify.
During his campaign for presidency, Biden promised to immediately certify Dreamers, allowing them to remain in the United States and granting them the ability to pursue American citizenship. As president, however, Biden has been unable to keep that promise amid legislation setbacks and court rulings.
Created by former President Barack Obama in 2012, the DACA program established protection from deportation for undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children. The program also allowed Dreamers to obtain a Social Security number, driver’s license, and work permits. The DACA measure was meant to be temporary until Congress voted on permanent legislation regarding Dreamers; however, that never happened.
Former President Donald Trump terminated the DACA program in 2017, claiming the policy skirts immigration law and was an unconstitutional executive decision. The termination sparked state and federal lawsuits arguing the legality of the program, and in June 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled the termination arbitrary, allowing the DACA program to continue.
In July 2021, the Biden administration was forced to shutter DACA once again. A United States District Judge of the Southern District of Texas ruled the DACA program illegal, citing that proper requirements were not correctly followed when launching the program, a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
The ruling allowed two-year renewals for those currently enrolled in DACA but ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to stop accepting new applications. DHS has appealed the ruling with the Fifth Circuit and has proposed new formal regulations in line with the APA; however, no decisions have been made to date. Should the judge’s ruling be upheld, the more than 825,000 currently enrolled in DACA will lose protection and face deportation.
Build Back Better Act
The administration’s Build Back Better (BBB) Act included major immigration provisions for millions of undocumented immigrants. Under BBB, Dreamers would qualify for longer work permits and obtain government identification. The BBB Act also included an increase in the number of employment-based green cards, for which Dreamers would be eligible to apply.
The United States Congress is the only entity capable of enacting permanent protection and permitting citizenship to Dreamers. Although Democrats control both houses of Congress, they failed to pass the bill on the final congressional session day in December.
As a whole, Republicans oppose immigration proposals. However, Democrats have not brought forth a potential compromise that might receive more bipartisan support. Instead, they chose to include a more robust immigration package within the BBB Act and push the bill through as a reconciliation process that requires only a majority in both houses to pass.
Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled on three separate occasions that the immigration measures included in the bill were ineligible under the reconciliation process and stripped them from the Act. Congress then failed to vote on the BBB Act, ultimately killing the bill.
The Battle for Congress
Although some predict the December vote on the BBB bill was the Democrats’ last opportunity to enact sweeping immigration reform ahead of the midterm elections, some believe the bill can be resurrected in 2022. Dreamers are being proactive and taking action, identifying and campaigning for mid-term candidates who support protective immigration measures in hopes of pushing through legalization that will grant them legal status by 2023.
However, Republicans remain the reform’s biggest hurdle. Current projections show that Republicans will almost certainly take control of Congress after the mid-term elections. Democrats currently control both houses, but by a very slim margin with 48 senators, 221 representatives, and two independents who vote Democratic.
Seeing election opportunity, Republicans have already begun capitalizing on Biden’s immigration failures. Taking a different approach, the GOP is already airing commercials and is deploying a strategic messaging strategy primarily aimed at voters in non-border states.
Whether Republicans will be successful in rallying voters remains to be seen, but it may be an uphill battle. Election polls show that although some voters may have concerns over other immigration policies, a large number support Dreamers remaining in the United States and seeking citizenship.
A 2020 Politico/Morning Consult poll found that Republican and conservative registered voters support Dreamers by 68 and 71 percent, respectively, regardless of nationality, gender, ethnicity, income, education, ideology, or religion. Even those who voted for Trump, who vowed to deport Dreamers if elected, support protections and citizenship by 69 percent.
A Vox and Data for Progress (DFP) poll in 2021 concluded that voters strongly, 69 percent, or somewhat, 86 percent, support policies protecting Dreamers. In total, more than three out of four voters support allowing Dreamers to stay in the United States and seek citizenship.
Immigration reform advocates argue that deporting Dreamers will have a negative impact on the United States. All Dreamers entered the country as children, many as infants. They have grown up, been educated, live, and work in the United States, effectively Americans in every way but legal citizenship.
Dreamers have become doctors, engineers, members of the military, scientists, teachers, and many other essential workers. Amidst the labor shortage in the United States, deporting nearly one million workers and potential workers could pack a serious blow to local and federal economies.
Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC Advocate for Dreamers Seeking Lawful Residency in the United States
If you are a Dreamer or lawful permanent resident wishing to seek United States citizenship, the experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC help clients obtain lawful resident status in the United States. Call us at 215-496-0690 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.