A bipartisan group of legislators has reintroduced a bill that, if approved, would extend for three years a government program for about 750,000 undocumented young people who entered the country as children, known as ‘Dreamers.’
The initiative, known as the BRIDGE Act (Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy), will be presented in both chambers of Congress by Senators Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Lindsey Graham (R- South Carolina), and by representatives Luis Gutiérrez (D-Illinois) and Mike Coffman (R-Colorado).
“It’s my firm belief most Americans want to fix a broken immigration system in a humane manner,” said Graham in a press release. “In my view, the DACA Executive Order issued by President Obama was unconstitutional and President-elect Trump would be right to repeal it. However, I do not believe we should pull the rug out and push these young men and women -- who came out of the shadows and registered with the federal government -- back into the darkness."
The BRIDGE proposal was first presented December 9 by Senators Graham and Durbin, shortly before Congress went home for the Christmas break, but was never put on the agenda for discussion.
The plan includes protection from deportation for young people who are covered under the 2012 DACA (Deferred Action for Child Arrivals) program, an executive action signed by President Barack Obama.
DACA covers hundreds thousands of undocumented youth who have been in the United States since June 15, 2007, and have no criminal record. It also grants them a temporary renewable work permit every two years.
“We need to do whatever we can to protect DACA recipients who are already working on-the-books and not move backward to strip them of legal status,” Gutiérrez said. “These young people are a lifeline for their families and leaders in our communities .
The BRIDGE plan
The protection offered by the BRIDGE proposal would allow Congress to study a permanent legislative solution to repair what both political parties agree is a "broken" immigration system, even if they have different ideas about how to fix it.
"I think it's a good step forward," said Dreamer Juan Escalante of America's Voice in Washington. "This is a proposal that opens a way for us to maintain legal status, able to drive and live without fear of being deported."
DACA, in addition to protecting Dreamers from deportation and granting an employment authorization, has allowed them to obtain a valid driver’s license.
"This effort makes it clear that some of our representatives at the national level have an understanding that immigrants support our country and our communities through our work and our efforts,” Escalante added.
The BRIDGE Act has broad support from the faith, business, higher-education, civil rights, and immigrant communities. This week, 88 business leaders from around the country sent a letter to President-elect Donald Trump and House and Senate leadership asking them to support the BRIDGE Act.
Obama administration fears
Last week, U.S. Department of Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson addressed a letter to congressional leaders to point out that the information provided by Dreamers to the government should only be used to register them under the 2012 Deferred Action and not for the purpose of deportation.
“I hope the next government does the same,” Johnson told Univision anchor Jorge Ramos during an interview on the program Al Punto. He added that when a government makes a promise, it "must be fulfilled."
Johnson's comments came in response to a speech by President-elect Donald Trump during his campaign. In June 2015, the New York real estate mogul vowed, if he was elected president, to deport all 11 million undocumented people living in the country. He then mentioned that he would cancel President Obama's executive orders on immigration, including Deferred Action.
In August, he said he would deport two million "illegal" people with criminal records and four million "illegals" with expired visas; another five million without documents should leave the country to arrange a visa before they return, he said.
In November, five days after being elected, he said he would only deport up to three million criminal "illegals,” and that once the border is secured he would decide what to do with the rest.
While Trump has not said recently what he plans to do with Dreamers, there is widespread concern among lawyers and immigration activists about the fate of the data protected by the DACA program.
“We’ll see if the Republican leadership accepts this bill as an alternative if the president-elect cancels DACA,” Escalante said. “We have no clarification about the future of the program, whether it will be canceled or continue. That’s making thousands of young people around the country nervous.”
Etsio Flores, an activist with the organization “Se Hace Camino” (“Make the Road”) in New York, said that President-elect Trump "has to accept that not all immigrants are bad, and that if we are here it is to make a better life for us and for the United States, our country."
“We want [the information] we shared when we enrolled in the program to stay safe, not to be used against us because that scares a lot of people in our community. We gave everything to the government and now we are afraid of being persecuted and deported,” Flores concluded.
In June 2013, Senators Graham and Durbin were part of the Senate’s Group of Eight that passed immigration reform with a path to citizenship. That then stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
On Nov. 11, three days after Trump's election, Univision News reported that bipartisan groups in both chambers were secretly working on legislation to legalize thousands of undocumented immigrants with no criminal history in the country.