Allotting $1.3 trillion to keep America running, Congress on Wednesday declined to consider a group that has been awaiting relief for what to them seems like forever: the “Dreamers.”
Specifically, when Congress unveiled an omnibus budget to allow the government to function through September, it did not include language or money to support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation.
“This was the chance for Congress to help the Dreamers, to bet on America, and they missed it,” said W. John Yahya Vandenberg, head of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “It’s shameful for both political parties.”
The move — or lack of one — wasn’t unexpected for immigrants and their advocates in the Philadelphia area, all of whom have lived in a frustrating limbo, wondering whether young people in the process of building lives here will be forced to abandon America and its shining promises, then return to countries they don’t know, to face futures for which they couldn’t possibly have planned.
Depending on how you count them, there are 700,000 to 800,000 Dreamers. Nearly 80 percent of them are from Mexico, according to the Pew Research Center. Their average age is 24. The majority are female (53 percent). Most are single (83 percent).
“This isn’t a surprise,” said Carlos Castro Miranda, 24, of Queen Village, a Dreamer whose parents brought him to the United States from Honduras when he was 8.
“That’s not to say it isn’t disappointing,” added Miranda, who works in digital marketing for a local advertising agency. “Congress is really wishy-washy. You can never really trust politicians. They cave under pressure.”
Sundrop Carter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition in Center City, continued the criticism of Congress, saying it “lost its political will and punted, keeping our broken immigration system in place.”
“The headline today is, ‘Congress Continues Not to Act.'”
That’s not entirely accurate.
Congress did set aside $1.6 billion for border security technologies — not including a concrete wall on the Mexican border, which was seen as a defeat for President Trump, who ran for office promising such an obstruction to keep people from getting into the U.S.
The news out of Washington was a welcome respite in the battle to keep immigrant numbers down, according to Chris Chmielenski, an activist with NumbersUSA, a national nonprofit headquartered in Arlington, Va., dedicated to reducing the number of foreign newcomers.
“Once again, we dodged a last-minute push to include a no-strings amnesty for DACA recipients in the $1.3 trillion spending package,…,” he wrote in a blog on Wednesday.
Chmielenski was echoing a long-held Republican sentiment that President Obama overreached when he set up the DACA program.
That thinking dovetails with Trump’s. The president has sought to limit family-based immigration, as well as the lottery system that allows some people from other nations to settle here. He has been a loud proponent of increasing border forces, along with the number of immigrant enforcement agents. Immigration advocates say that Trump and his Justice Department have ratcheted up fear in immigrant communities as ICE raids to deport people have increased under his administration.
The crisis began last September, when Trump announced that he was ending DACA. The program keeps recipients from being deported through deferred action, which has to be approved every two years, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. It does not provide lawful status or a path to citizenship.
He declared a six-month delay to allow Congress to act on his decision. But several federal judges ruled that Trump’s rationale for ending DACA was flawed, and all existing DACA permits were ordered to be renewed. This means that for the time being, the government must accept DACA renewals, although it can’t process new DACA applications.
Then, late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined the Trump administration’s request to take up the question of whether the judges’ findings were correct.
In recent parries with Democrats, Trump said he would offer three years of DACA protection in exchange for $25 billion for the wall. Democrats demurred, saying they wanted a path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants. Trump demurred.
The haggling continued, resulting in both the wall and DACA being left out of final consideration by Congress, expected to complete voting on the bill Friday.
While they suffered yet another setback, the Dreamers are not without hope, advocates said.
“This certainly doesn’t mean the end of DACA,” said Sarah Paoletti, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on human rights.
She said there’s still a chance that Congress can take up a separate “clean” bill to deal with Dreamers once and for all.
J. Kevin Appleby, policy director for the Center for Migrations Studies, a New York think tank, said that Democrats may prove to “have a stronger hand” in Congress after the midterm elections in November to finally help Dreamers.
Just don’t lose hope, said Miranda, the Queen Village Dreamer.
“We must continue to rally, to pressure politicians, to have our voices heard,” he said. “There is no ‘woe is me.’ The government wants us to be afraid so we’ll accept the first concession they offer.”
And, Carter of PICC warned, it’s not just Dreamers who need to worry.
“For us,” she said, “this is about the Trump administration attacking anything that has to do with immigrants.”