Democrats must be ready to go it alone to protect Dreamers

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects immigrants who arrived in the United States as children but without legal authority to live here, has been a life changer for more than 600,000 people. It has allowed them to come out of the shadows and contribute fully to society.

Many of these so-called “Dreamers” — most of whom grew up in America and can call no other country home — have made the most of the opportunity. They are service members, health care providers, teachers and tech entrepreneurs. They are our friends and neighbors, in Washington alone.

Since the program was implemented by the Obama administration in 2012, DACA recipients have emerged as vital members of our communities. During the pandemic, more than 200,000 were essential workers, including front-line doctors and nurses.

They have shown up for America. So far, America has failed to show up for them.

For almost a decade, DACA recipients have lived with uncertainty as court decisions and executive actions jockey to determine their fate. All the while, bipartisan promises of permanent legal status have been repeatedly dashed by congressional inertia.

Last year, recipients were relieved after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from ending the program because it failed to provide a reasoned explanation, and in December 2020, a New York court ordered the government to accept new applications.

The calm was short-lived. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas recently ruled the program was “illegally implemented,” siding with Texas and other states in determining that President Barack Obama had overstepped his authority. The ruling protects current recipients but blocks any new applications, leaving more than 80,000 young immigrants in limbo.

The Biden administration said it will appeal, but a permanent solution lies with Congress where, unsurprisingly, efforts have stalled.

The American Dream and Promise Act, which includes a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, passed the House in March with some Republican support, including from Washington’s Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside. But the bill faces GOP opposition in the Senate.

“Congress cannot keep kicking this can down the road,” Newhouse said in a statement. “Until we have a comprehensive solution signed into law, these young people — who were brought to this country at no fault of their own — will continue to suffer.”

Ending that suffering may mean leaving Newhouse’s party behind.

Democrats are considering including Dreamer protection in President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion economic recovery bill, which is expected to be approved through budget reconciliation. That process would allow the legislation to pass the evenly divided Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes.

That vote is not expected until the fall, and it is still unclear if immigration provisions can be part of that bill. In the meantime, Democrats should not give up on finding the needed bipartisan support, but they must also be ready to go it alone.

Congress has dithered enough. Dreamers deserve peace of mind.