January 10, 2018

LALDEF Calls for Clean DREAM Act, As Time Is Running Out for DACA

By Donald Gilpin

The Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) continues to call for a clean DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) from Congress, a bill that is not attached to increased funding for border security and expanded detention facilities, as President Donald Trump and other Republican lawmakers continue to argue for a border wall and more money for immigration enforcement.

Meanwhile thousands of young undocumented immigrants, known as DREAMers, are running out of time, with the Trump administration having set a March 5 termination to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“Congress has had over three months since the September 5 announcement to take action to protect our DREAMers,” said LALDEF Executive Director Adriana Abizadeh. “They have continued to string along the hopes of 800,000 youths. We need to pressure our representatives to hold off the vote if the budget presented does not have a line for DREAMers. To date over 13,000 individuals have lost their DACA status; those individuals are no longer legally eligible for employment and are vulnerable to immigration enforcement. In less than two months, we will see thousands of DACA recipients lose their employment authorization each week.”

At press time Tuesday afternoon, Trump was still engaged in a lengthy meeting on immigration with a bipartisan group of lawmakers. His latest proposal was that Congress should address the problem in two phases: first dealing with DACA and border security, including construction of the wall, then undertaking comprehensive immigration reforms.

It was not clear whether Trump’s participation and the bipartisan engagement might help lead to resolution of the conflict before the January 19 budget deadline, or the March 5 DACA expiration date.

A statement issued Friday by U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, who participated in Tuesday’s White House session, was indicative of difficulties involved in closing a deal. “President Trump has said he may need a good government shutdown to get his wall,” Durbin wrote. “With this demand, he seems to be heading in that direction. I’ve been clear from the beginning that Senate Democrats will consider reasonable border security measures in order to pass the DREAM Act into law. The Trump administration set this crisis in motion when it ended DACA four months ago. It’s outrageous that the White House would undercut months of bipartisan efforts by again trying to put its entire wish-list of hardline anti-immigrant bills — plus an additional $18 million in wall funding — on the backs of these young people.”

Abizadeh, who will be leading LALDEF’s opening meeting of the year on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at its headquarters in Trenton, emphasized, “We need to take action. The advocacy will continue.” She noted that action taken, or not taken, by Congress will have local consequences, “losing business owners, losing homeowners, losing students — the residual effects will be enormous.”

She continued, “How can we stand by and allow these young people to potentially end up in deportation proceedings? We need to send a clear message to our New Jersey representatives that the 22,000 DREAMers living in our state have a huge impact in our communities and we will hold representatives accountable.”

Describing the current impasse as “disheartening,” she said, “We need a clean DREAM Act. We have to make policies that are reflective of the situation we are in. Decisions in Congress should reflect what the nation wants.”

Abizadeh noted that topics at Thursday’s meeting would include updates to the DACA situation; how to maintain engagement at the local level; the importance of action, participation, and knowledge of what’s going on; increased voter registration and voting; civic education; and civic engagement.

“Our immigrant neighbors are vulnerable and those that have been afforded protections in the past are finding themselves in precarious situations,” Abizadeh said. “This nation was founded by immigrants and our national immigration policies over the decades have systematically reduced the number of immigrants who can enter our borders through legal pathways. We need an overhaul of our archaic immigration policies to embody the right to the pursuit of happiness that we portray to the world.”