Across the country right now, more than 700,000 people are looking to Congress for an answer about their futures – and about 124,000 of them live in Texas. We’re talking about Dreamers, the name that refers to young people brought to the U.S. without authorization when they were just kids. Now, the Obama-era executive action protecting them from deportation is set to expire and it’s up to lawmakers in Washington to decide what to do next.
For Democrats, the best case scenario would be to pass the Dream Act as is. After lawmakers almost passed it in 2010, but failed, then-President Obama put into effect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – or DACA – an executive order that protected these kids from deportation.
But Republicans – the loudest of all being President Donald Trump – want a separate bill that wouldn’t just address Dreamers but would also have wider immigration implications, like ending chain migration and fully funding the border wall. The trick, as always, is finding out what version will lead to passage.
Brian Smith, professor of Political Science and associate dean of the School of Behavioral and Social Sciences at St. Edwards University in Austin, says there’s nothing worse than the uncertainty that DACA recipients are currently feeling.
“The sooner Congress acts on this, the sooner these people who are under protection under DACA will be able to get some kind of pathway to citizenship, or at least know what their immigration status is,” he says. “Because a lot of these people are working Americans, so this means their jobs, their college if they’re in college, all this is in limbo.”
Smith says there’s the potential for compromise, but the parties are very far apart in terms of what they actually want to see happen. One area of compromise could be the border wall – building a wall and having Mexico pay for it – which he says was a great campaign slogan but, in reality, many Republicans say it could be ineffective and very expensive.
“So when we think about where Republicans are likely to compromise, it would be about funding the wall,” he says. “How much are Republicans willing to accept in funding for the wall, or are they just willing to put the wall aside in exchange for other security protections like maybe ending the chain migration, the lottery visas.”
Since the wall has always been one of the President’s signature pieces, Smith says that’s where there could be a lot of legislative conflict within his own party.
There are rumors that a deal could be close. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says he’s co-authored a bill with Democratic Senator Dick Durbin that would include a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.
But Smith says another obstacle is that Congress has other urgent priorities, too.
“They spent all of Christmas time getting the tax bill, and then they declared victory and went home, leaving all these unresolved issues, including that the government could run out of money in about two weeks,” Smith says. “So that’s the most pressing issue.”
Written by Jen Rice.