Washington – As it was the last time the federal government closed, protection for young immigrants known as “Dreamers” has been raised as a possible bargaining chip in a deal to end the partial shutdown.
But the limited fix being proposed for some of the nation’s undocumented immigrants is a nonstarter with many advocates – including some Dreamers — and a broader agreement to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws has eluded Congress for years. Conservative Republicans have maintained their objections to all but but the most punitive of immigration bills.
About a year ago, Democrats insisted legislation that would codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program into law be included in a deal to fund the government and prevent a shutdown — the result then, as now, of Congress’ failure to pass all appropriations bills.
Senate Democrats blinked, however, and accepted an agreement that did not have any permanent protection for the young immigrants.
This time, it appears President Donald Trump is dangling the possibility of trading DACA protections for money to build a wall along the U.S. Mexico border in a deal that would end the partial government shutdown now entering its third week.
After shutdown talks with congressional leaders on Friday, Trump responded “yeah” to a reporter’s question about whether a DACA fix was discussed. House Democratic leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, meanwhile, answered “no” to the same question.
Camila Bortoleto, 30, who, with her twin sister Carolina, founded CT Students for a Dream, said she would not support trading protections for young immigrants for a border wall.
“We would not want to trade our lives for the lives of other immigrants,” Bortoletto said. “It’s not a real payoff.”
About 800,000 young immigrants – nearly 8,000 of them in Connecticut – have been protected from deportation and awarded work permits by the DACA program initiated by former President Barack Obama in 2012. These young immigrants were called “Dreamers” after the DREAM Act, a bill that would give them permanent legal status but that has failed be passed by Congress, year after year.
“These are people who have passed background checks for years, they are working and grew up in the United States,” said Douglas Penn, an immigration lawyer in Stamford, referring to the Dreamers. “They are a functioning part of society.”
Obama’s actions allowed young people — most of whom were brought to the United States as infants and children by their undocumented parents — who entered the United States before 2007 to apply for protection from deportation, renewable upon good behavior every two years.
But Trump rescinded the program in September of 2017, saying Obama had no authority to establish it.
Federal courts have enjoined, or halted, the government’s termination of DACA and required U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to continue to renew DACA applications.
While the court decisions have stopped the deportation of Dreamers, thousands of young immigrants have lived in legal limbo for more than a year.
Camila Bortoletto is one of them. She renewed her status recently, but her work permit and authorization to stay in the United States will expire at the end of 2020.
She and her sister Carolina were brought by their parents to Connecticut from Brazil when they were 9 years old. While Obama’s move to protect young immigrants helped the twin sisters, Bortoletto said the DACA program “is becoming obsolete” now because most undocumented youths no longer qualify since they would have had to enter the United States before 2007.
Because of that, Bortolleto said a comprehensive immigration bill that would allow a path to residency, and even citizenship, for many more young undocumented immigrants — and their parents — is needed.
Her sister, Carolina, however, is not optimistic.
“I have no expectations of the new Congress,” she said.
A ‘scary’ amount of power
Last year, the president said he would sign a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill that protected Dreamers.
But Trump balked at supporting proposed bipartisan legislation that did not include a crackdown on other undocumented immigrants and also limit legal immigration.
Trump believes the Supreme Court will ultimately decide the DACA program is unconstitutional.
Last week, the president said he would have a “scary” amount of power if the Supreme Court ruled otherwise.
“If the Supreme Court rules that President Obama was wrong, which they should because — by the way, if he was right, then I’ve been given tremendous power,” Trump told reporters at the White House last week. “Can you imagine me having that power? Wouldn’t that be scary?”
Trump also said, “if President Obama is allowed to do what he did on DACA, then I’m allowed to do whatever I want to do on things that, you know, probably a president … doesn’t have the right to do.”