Two senators on Tuesday urged Congress to move quickly on bipartisan legislation that would provide legal status to the hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States since they were children, and now face losing protection from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
The latest call for action on the DREAM Act, issued by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, came just hours after the Trump administration said it would phase out DACA over the next six months.
“Today this announcement that was handed down, first by Attorney General Sessions and then by the president, tells us that the clock is ticking,” Durbin told media.
“We are now in a countdown toward deportation for 780,000 protected by DACA today. For those young men and women across America, I can tell you this is a moment of great concern, great fear, and great anxiety about what’s going to happen to their lives.”
The most recent version of the DREAM Act, introduced in July, would offer legal permanent residence – and eventually a pathway to citizenship – to young immigrants if they arrived in the US as children, obtained a high school degree or GED, and are enrolled in higher education, employed, or serve in the military.
Immigrants would also have to undergo background checks, demonstrate English-language proficiency, and have a criminal record clear of felonies or other “serious crimes.”
Durbin has introduced the DREAM Act in various iterations throughout the last 16 years and received minor victories, although none of the bills managed to pass both the House and Senate at the same time. Durbin and Graham both expressed hope that the latest version of the legislation would be passed by the end of September.
“I am committed to fixing this problem once and for all,” Graham said at the news conference. “This is a defining moment … we are the party of a constitutional process. We believe in doing it right. But ‘right’ means taking care of these kids.”
Graham praised Trump’s decision to rescind DACA and pass the issue over to Congress, but noted that some of his Republican colleagues will likely be reluctant to offer young undocumented immigrants legal status, lest the move encourage more illegal immigration.
“I think most Republicans believe you have to have a secure border or you’ll have 11 million more [undocumented immigrants] in the future,” he said, adding that his solution is to work on subsequent legislation that would address border security, after the DREAM Act is passed.
Passing DREAM in the near future will be difficult. Congress is gearing up for a busy month packed with must-pass legislation, including bills to raise the debt ceiling, fund the government, overhaul the tax code, and stabilize the individual health-insurance exchanges.