Washington – As thousands of Connecticut immigrant youths wait for President Donald Trump to decide whether to end their protections from deportation, Congress may be coming to their aid.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said he will try to force a vote on a bill that would provisionally shield from deportation undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors.
Nine state attorneys general, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, have told Trump that, unless he revokes an Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, they will file a lawsuit aimed at ending the program on Sept. 5. Once a member of the group, Tennessee on Friday said it had changed its mind about challenging DACA.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a decision would be announced on Tuesday, the deadline set by the attorneys general. Trump had earlier said the announcement could come at some point over the weekend.
He also said, “We think the dreamers are terrific.”
The attorneys general say President Obama abused his executive power in 2012 when he established the program, which has made about 10,000 Connecticut immigrant youths eligible for protection from deportation.
But if Congress approves the BRIDGE Act, it would be tough to legally challenge the protections given these immigrant youths, known as “dreamers.”
When he returns to Washington next week, Coffman said he’ll file what’s known as a “discharge petition” to force action on the BRIDGE Act. He will need the support of all 194 House Democrats and at least 26 Republicans to win a majority that would force the House to take up the measure later in September. A similar bill has been introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in the Senate.
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday gave a major boost to legislative efforts to preserve DACA and urged Trump not to end the program.
“I actually don’t think he should do that,” Ryan said on a radio show in Wisconsin. “I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix.”
The BRIDGE Act’s protections are similar to those afforded under DACA.
Youths born after June 15, 1981, who were brought to the United States before their 16th birthday and have lived in the United States since June 15, 2007, would be eligible for a work permit and protection from deportation. Applicants for protection also must be enrolled in school, have graduated from high school or have served honorably in the military. Those convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors would be barred from the program.
The legislation gives applicants legal status for three years. Obama’s program requires reapplication every two years.
Congress has been considering legislation to shield young undocumented immigrants from deportation for years, dating back to the George W. Bush administration. Lawmakers tried again to pass a bill during the Obama administration, but couldn’t muster enough GOP votes, prompting Obama to use his executive authority to implement DACA.
Camila Bortolleto, a DACA recipient and leader of CT Students for a Dream, said if the state attorneys general follow through on their threat to sue, “Congress should push for a solution.”
“But the legislation should be good,” Bortolleto said, providing real relief to dreamers.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a national immigration group, said he’d prefer Congress to approve the DREAM Act, legislation that also has been introduced by senators Durbin and Graham that would offer dreamers a route to permanent legal status.
But Sharry said, “What we want desperately now, is that DACA stay in place. Then Congress can act.”
If the president does not rescind DACA and the state attorneys general sue, the program could be stopped immediately or continue for years as the case proceeds through the courts.
The case would be filed with the same federal court in Texas that in 2015 issued an injunction to stop Obama from expanding DACA and implementing a new program known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, known as DAPA, that would have protected the parents of legal immigrants from deportation.
The injunction was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which deadlocked 4-4 – allowing it to remain in place.
Meanwhile, the nation’s dreamers, which total about 800,000, are awaiting news that will greatly impact their futures. Many don’t remember their homelands and consider themselves American.
Greisa Martinez Rosas, advocacy director of United We Dream, the national dreamers organization, said thousands of immigrant youths are ready to take to the streets this weekend in protest if Trump rescinds the program.
“We will mobilize within 24 hours of the announcement,” she said.
Bortolleto said there are no such plans to protest in Connecticut, but some vigils and rallies in support of DACA had been scheduled in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Danbury.
“But if Trump does something, people will be angry,” she said.