In her speech before the House of Representatives after her election as president, Nancy Pelosi (Dem-Ca), made mention of raising the issue of the so-called 'Dreamers', the undocumented youth who were brought to the United States when they were children.
"We will make America more American by protecting our patriotic, courageous Dreamers!" she said.
She emphasized the legislative priority by citing a famous speech by former President Ronald Reagan, a Republican from California, who said: "If we ever closed the door on new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost."
In the November elections, the Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives after eight years in Republican hands, a serious setback for President Donald Trump as his adminsitration faces multiple investigations.
Of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants, some 800,000 arrived in the country before age 16 and are known as Dreamers. In 2012, then-President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to temporarily protect Dreamers from deportation.
Trump ended the program in 2017 but the federal courts have prevented the White House from completely eliminating the protection. In early November, a panel of three judges decided to keep in effect the ruling issued by a federal court in California in January, which ordered the government to reinstate the program. The panel's ruling concluded that the government's decision was "arbitrary, capricious and not in accordance with the law."
History of the Dreamer struggle: five years of DACA
"A new year and a new opportunity"
After the Democrat's victory in November, immigrant rights activists say that Congress needs to find a permanent solution for Dreamers. "A new year and a new opportunity for Congress to take up important issues. It's key that Pelosi and other members of Congress put DREAMers and immigration at the forefront of the legislative agenda," said Gaby Pacheco, director of programs at TheDream.US.
"I’m not naive, I’ve seen this movie play out for 15+ years I’ve been involved but we can’t let the fire die down because we don’t see an opportunity. Rather we must push through because you never know when our time will come," she added.
Some prominent Democrats, including Senator Robert Menéndez Dem-NJ), have said they should quickly offer an immigration bill that allows Democrats to "show what they represent," The Washington Post reported.
Polls following the mid-term elections reveal that most Americans support a measure that includes provisions to protect Dreamers.
However, it remains unclear what a solution might be, as some conservative voices speak of the need to link a solution to the Dreamers' dilemma with other immigration reform measures, including border security or financing Trump's border wall.
Trump has blown hot and cold on the subject. At one time he seemed to favor the 'Dream Act', a proposed bipartisan legislation that includes the same protections as DACA and also creates a path for citizenship or permanent legal resident status if applicants meet certain requirements, such as having lived in United States for a determined period of time, attained a certain educational level, work experience or military service. Under the proposal it would take at least 13 years for those eligible to achieve citizenship.
During discussions on the 2018 budget, Trump proposed to legalize the Dreamers after payment of a $25,000 fine, as part of an effort to reach an agreement on an immigration plan that excluded 9.2 million undocumented immigrants, among them the parents and relatives of the Dreamers.
That was considered unacceptable by the Democrats and the analysts wonder if there are any aspects of immigration reform, such as improving security at the border ports of entry, which could be acceptable to all. For example, some Republicans have gone as far as saying that DACA legislation should be linked to a proposal, backed by Trump, that would also reduce the level of legal immigration by half.
"“We must recognize that codifying the DACA program will have two negative consequences: encouraging future illegal immigration with minors and allowing those 800,000 people to obtain legal status for their family members via chain migration, which rewards the very people who broke the law in the first place and further depresses working-class wages,” according to Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton.