After several months of closed-door meetings, on Thursday senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) presented a bipartisan bill that would put thousands of undocumented youth who entered the United States as children on a path to citizenship.
If approved, the Dream Act of 2017 would allow these young people, known as dreamers, the chance to apply for lawful permanent residence if they meet certain requirements. The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security would cancel their deportation orders.
The bipartisan bill is the latest attempt in a legislative process that has repeatedly failed. The bill was first introduced in 2001, and has been unsuccessfully introduced a number of times since.
The current bill comes as at least 10 states await a response from Attorney General Jeff Sessions about whether he will overturn the 2012 DACA executive order, which protects just over 788,000 dreamers from deportation and provides them with a renewable work permit every two years. In a June letter, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with nine state attorneys general and the governor of Idaho, threatened to sue in court over the program if it is not revoked by Sept. 5.
The Dream Act of 2017 would give conditional residency to DACA-protected dreamers, young undocumented immigrants demonstrating completion of primary or secondary education, and those with disabilities. It provides an additional path for qualifying immigrants who have been employed for at least three years.
Activists fear the bill will again go nowhere, as President Trump has announced his plans to continue a crackdown on illegal immigration.
On Wednesday, the White House said that President Trump would not support the bipartisan project. “The administration has opposed the Dream Act,” said Marc Short, director of legislative affairs at the White House.
But leading immigrants-rights groups applauded the bipartisan effort Thursday. “It is encouraging to see members of Congress from both parties willing to work together to bring forward the Dream Act, which has always enjoyed broad, bipartisan support," the National Immigration Law Center wrote in a statement. "The legislation would provide a necessary, longer-term solution for immigrant youth who have fought for the ability to work, go to school, and live without fear of deportation."
According to the bill's text, those eligible would need to have been continuously present in the U.S. for four years and have been 17 or younger when they entered the country. That’s a change from the five years DACA recipients were previously required to have been present in the country, and the 16-year-old entry cut off.
“That would increase the number of beneficiaries by at least 10 percent,” Cristina Jiménez, the executive director of United We Dream, told Univision.
Under the bill, those unable to qualify for residency includes anyone who has committed a crime or abused their student visa.
Last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to discuss the future of DACA, as well as other immigration-related topics. Following the hour-long meeting, members of congress warned that the Trump government is not likely to halt its aggressive deportation policy, and that DACA was in peril.
"I think we have to prepare for the worst," said Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), shortly after the Capitol meeting.