Washington – President Donald Trump has boosted the chance for permanent protection from deportation for 10,000 undocumented youth in Connecticut, but those youth are still wary because their future depends on a fractured Congress.
“We’re watching and waiting,” said Camila Bortolleto, an organizer with Connecticut Students for a Dream. “We don’t control the legislature; all we can do is speak out about our opinions.”
Connecticut Students for a Dream is a group of immigrant youth who have benefitted from an Obama-era policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that protected youth who qualified for the program from deportation and gave them work permits.
The protections were renewable every two years. But earlier this month, Trump said his administration would not renew these DACA protections after six months, leaving the fates of 800,000 “dreamers” in limbo.
Trump said he wanted Congress to find a permanent situation for the youth, but the GOP-controlled Congress had no appetite for fast-tracking DACA legislation, and wanted any relief for the youths to be tied to tougher immigration enforcement measures, including the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Those enforcement measures are deal-killers for Democrats – and dreamers.
So Trump turned to the Democratic leaders of Congress this week, and during a White House dinner of Chinese food, brokered a deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of Texas that provided Congress a blueprint, and an incentive, to act.
Shortly after the dinner, Pelosi and Schumer issued a statement saying that they had agreed with Trump to pursue legislation to legalize the status of dreamers. They issued another statement saying that the details of border security remain to be negotiated.
“We’re working on a plan for DACA,” Trump told reporters on Thursday. ”The wall will come later.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he was “encouraged” by the president’s actions and “will work with my colleagues on bipartisan legislation that gives Dreamers a sense of security and clarity.”
“The dreamers know only this country, speak this language, and have friends and family here,” Blumenthal said.
Shaquille Jessop, a football star and graduate of Enfield High School, is a DACA recipient who says he is watching what Congress will do and trying not to get too upset about his uncertain status.
Jessop, 22, was 5 years old when his divorced mother sent him from Barbados to Connecticut to reunite with his father, who had legal status in the United States. But his father disappeared with his stepmother before Jessop could win residency through his father.
“There are a lot of people here like me who are going to school, getting jobs and paying taxes. They are not committing crimes.” said Jessop, who works full-time at a Firestone tire dealership. “Why punish them?’
There are two major bills that would protect DACA recipients, the BRIDGE Act that would extend protections to the youths for three years, and the more comprehensive DREAM Act that would create a path to citizenship for the youth.
Dreamers prefer the DREAM Act, but say it must be “clean,” with no immigration enforcement measures attached.
“We don’t want anything that might end up hurting the immigration community,” Bortolleto said.
That’s a problem for GOP leaders, especially House Speaker Paul Ryan, who promised conservative members that no immigration bill would be introduced unless it had the support of a majority of House Republicans. One way to win that support is by attaching tougher immigration enforcement actions to any bill that would help the dreamers.
“If there was a straight-up vote on the DREAM Act, it would pass by wide margins in both chambers,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy organization.
That’s because most Democrats would vote for the bill, as well as some GOP members of the House and Senate.
Late Thursday, Ryan said he is impaneling an informal working group of moderate Republicans and immigration hard-liners to find a solution the House GOP conference can support.
Meanwhile, immigrant advocates say there’s strong support for the dreamers among the American public, among both Democrats and Republicans.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said since last week’s announcement that the Trump administration was going to end DACA, made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “my office has been deluged with calls and emails from people across the district who are opposed to that change.”
Immigrant advocates also are pushing back against Trump’s end to DACA with legal challenges.
America’s Voice is among the latest organization to sue the Trump administration for its plans to end DACA.
A group of Democratic attorneys general, including Connecticut’s George Jepsen, also is suing the administration over DACA. The lawsuits cite a number of constitutional issues, including that there was no rulemaking by federal agencies before Trump ended the program; there is a racial bias against the dreamers, who are overwhelmingly Hispanic; and there is no due process for those who would be hurt by the end of DACA.