Opinion: The Path Forward for DACA Youth

By Wendy Cervantes

On September 5, the Trump Administration announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program. The announcement has had immediate consequences for more than 800,000 young immigrants, also commonly referred to as “Dreamers.” Since its inception in 2012, DACA has provided beneficiaries with the opportunity to reach their full potential by working legally, pursuing a higher education, better providing for their families, and helping their communities thrive. Starting March 6, 2018, it is estimated that as many as 1,400 Dreamers will lose their DACA status each day. With the end of DACA, young people will also lose their jobs and protection from deportation, which will undermine well-being in our communities.

Thus, the need to find a long-term solution for DACA youth is more important than ever.

Congress now has less than five months to pass legislation to protect DACA beneficiaries and other undocumented youth. There are several proposals that have already been introduced in the House and Senate from both sides of the aisle. Of these various bills, the Dream Act of 2017, introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), is the only bipartisan proposal that would provide a clear pathway to citizenship to a broad range of DACA recipients and other Dreamers who satisfy the bill’s higher education, military, or employment requirements. In addition, the Dream Act includes a hardship exception for immigrant youth who may not be able to work, attend school, or join the military due to certain circumstances, such as raising children. Consequently, the Dream Act of 2017 reflects the full diversity and talents of Dreamers, including those who have not pursued a traditional college education or military service.

And while it’s encouraging to have so many proposals on the table, it’s also important to fully understand the differences between each. For example, a recent analysis by the Migration Policy Institute shows that 1.5 million young immigrants could potentially complete the Dream Act’s path to citizenship, compared to 938,000 under proposals like the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act, introduced in the House by Representative Carlos Curbelo (R-FL).  Similarly, the recently introduced SUCCEED Act by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and James Lankford (R-OK) falls short on providing a viable solution for DACA recipients and other Dreamers. In addition to severe due process concerns and an exceptionally long path to citizenship, the bill includes overly restrictive requirements on date of entry and age that would once again leave out hundreds of thousands of young people who were unable to qualify for the 2012 DACA program and previous legislative proposals. The bill also includes unrealistic requirements that would put potential beneficiaries at greater risk of falling out of status or bar them from obtaining citizenship. For example, the bill would deny potential beneficiaries the ability to qualify for an additional 5-year period of conditional status should they use supports like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), both of which are critical for working families and low-income students.

Finally, it’s imperative that Congress pass legislation that is free from harmful provisions that could undermine the safety and well-being of immigrant youth and families. Just this past week, the Trump Administration released a deeply troubling set of immigration principles which would further terrorize immigrant and refugee communities, such as significantly ramping up immigration enforcement measures, stripping fundamental protections from asylum-seeking children, and penalizing localities who choose not to collaborate with immigration authorities. Addressing the immediate threat facing DACA youth should not be contingent on proposals that betray our nation’s values and put children and families at risk. That’s why we’re calling on Congress to focus on doing the right thing for immigrant youth by passing a clean Dream Act as soon as possible.