For Dreamers, 2021 was the year that promised permanent relief from their fragile immigration status, but fell short. President Biden can make 2022 different.
Candidate Joe Biden promised in his last debate with Donald Trump in October 2020 that if he were elected president, the Dreamers, those brought to the United States without their parents’ permission when they were children, would be “immediately re-certified to be able to stay in this country and be put on the path to citizenship. But President Biden was unable to keep that promise, and it’s not clear he ever will. As a result, the Dreamers find themselves in the most precarious position they have known since the launch of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012.
Much of the blame lies with Congress, which is the only body that can enact permanent protection and grant access to citizenship to approximately 1.1 million eligible young people who came illegally before 2012. But the administration is not flawless either. Democrats control both houses of Congress and the presidency – as they did from 2009 to 2011 – but immigration reform has not proven to be a high enough priority for them to use the capital it they would need to give relief to the Dreamers.
Make no mistake, Republicans are the biggest stumbling block. But Democrats haven’t figured out how to effectively use their influence, nor have they been willing to find a compromise that could win some GOP votes. Instead, Democrats bet they could tie a much larger immigration package to the Build Back Better bill and then pass it all as part of the reconciliation process requiring a simple majority in both houses. But this approach posed obvious problems. The Senate parliamentarian has ruled three times, most recently on December 16, that the attachment of the general proposal to the Senate version of BBB is unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, time is running out a court decision which could deprive the current beneficiaries of their protected status and subject them to deportation. In July 2021, South Texas District Judge Andrew Hanen ruled in a case brought by the State of Texas against the Department of Homeland Security that the original memorandum establishing the DACA violated administrative procedure law and was therefore void. . While Judge Hanen suspended his decision for current DACA beneficiaries while DHS appealed, the DACA cancellation now hangs like a sword of Damocles on the current 825,000 Dreamers and prevents DHS from processing new claims. DHS has filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit, one of the most conservative circuits in the country, and attempted to satisfy Hanen’s objections by propose formal regulations compatible with APA, but the outcome of both is uncertain.
The best permanent solution is to change the law, but this has so far proved impossible. Dreamers are only a small fraction of the roughly 11 million people living in the United States without permanent legal status. Supporters of reform â myself included â argued that the system needs to be fundamentally overhauled to better meet our current and future immigrant needs and to provide legal status for those who have lived, worked, paid. taxes and contributed to our communities despite having exceeded their legal visa or entered without authorization more than ten years ago. But the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good, and at this time comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely, especially as we enter an election year. So why not do what we can to protect a small but large population who grew up and were educated in the United States and who are American in everything but legal status? Dreamers are members of our armed forces; they are studying to be or already practicing doctors, nurses, scientists, engineers, and teachers; they work at essential jobsacross the working population. With labor shortages threatening our economic recovery, what sense does it make to jeopardize the loss of these precious workers?
For nearly two decades, Congress has been blocked from passing any meaningful immigration reform. The fight has been twofold: What should we do about the people currently in the country without permanent status, and what are the country’s immigrant needs in the future? Tying the two together has doomed solutions for both. In 1986, President Reagan signed a law granting amnesty to a population of 3 million illegal immigrants then present, but his support for amnesty was long standing. “I believe in the idea of ââamnesty for those who took root and lived here, even though they may have entered illegally at the time,” he said during a debate with Walter Mondale before the 1984 election. If we can’t solve all of our immigration problems, at least President Biden could solve one.
President Biden should seriously consider declaring an amnesty for Dreamers now. Yes, that would be controversial and the Republicans would scream, but if he drafted both the order and his message carefully and enforced the terms – essentially the same terms at DACA – he would have the support of the majority of Americans. Polls show that 72 percent of likely voters support the granting of legal status to Dreamers. It wouldn’t be the first time that a president has pronounced a controversial broad amnesty. President Ford granted amnesty to rebels and even some deserters from the Vietnam War in 1974 on condition of having completed two years of public service. In his first day in office, President Jimmy Carter extended the amnesty to rebels who had fled to other countries. If Americans could agree to the amnesty for those who had refused to serve our nation in times of war, how could they not support the amnesty to the Dreamers in Uniform now, as well as the thousands of others who serve their communities? in other ways?
In some circumstances, the credible threat of an amnesty might be enough to force a compromise on Capitol Hill. President Biden is expected to challenge Congress: Fix our broken immigration system now, or the Dreamers’ amnesty will be just the first I grant. The president’s clemency power is limited, but forgiving people who broke federal laws is exactly the authority the Constitution grants. What could be better than giving legal status to 1.1 million young people who came here as children, on average around 6 years old, over ten years ago?