U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake introduced legislation Thursday that would provide a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers,” while funding border security including what critics say is a “down payment” on President Donald Trump’s border wall.
Flake’s bill is the latest in a string of legislative efforts being considered in both chambers of Congress to address the predicament of dreamers.
Flake said his is the “best chance” at a permanent solution for young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, including the approximately 800,000 approved for temporary deportation deferments and work permits through former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or DACA.
The move to give DACA recipients a pathway to citizenship has gained renewed support in both parties since the Trump administration announced last month that it would do away with the protections by early March.
Despite his contentious relationship with Trump, Flake, who’s up for re-election next year, has aligned himself with the president with his proposal.
“The president wants to protect the dreamers. So do I. Most of the people in the Congress do,” Flake said. “Some would rather say they’re just subject to deportation. So you have to make some trade-offs, and I think that’s what will be done here.”
Anticipating opposition from some of his fellow Republicans to a bill that only gives dreamers legal status, Flake added a few “trade-offs,” including funding for additional fencing and access roads at the U.S.-Mexico border, and stronger immigration enforcement beyond the border.
“I think the legislation that we’ve introduced today has the best shot of hitting the sweet spot, in between protecting the DACA kids and also providing border security,” Flake said.
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However, the measure was met with immediate opposition from dreamers. Groups such as the Arizona Dream Act Coalition have pushed for a “clean” bill, granting them legal status but without anything else attached.
“We don’t want our families to be terrorized,” said Karina Ruiz, the group’s executive director. She’s a DACA recipient who renewed it this year. Her permit expires in January 2019.
“There is already a wall, there is already a fence. There are better uses of that money, such as Puerto Rico,” she said. “They’re trying to give that money to construction companies instead of helping American citizens. To us, it is a waste of money and resources because it’s not going to make that much of an impact.”
What the bill does
Flake’s Border Security and Deferred Action Recipient Relief Act pieces together four proposals in a single bill. Some of the proposals mirror legislation that’s already been passed or introduced in the House.
- It would grant undocumented youth provisional status that allows them to get a green card after a 10-year period. It would only apply to immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. before 2012. “That was when DACA went into effect. And so this does not allow people brought in later to take advantage of the program,” Flake said.
- The bill includes the $1.6 billion the Trump administration requested, and House Republicans approved, to build additional border fences in south Texas and San Diego. Democrats, who largely opposed that House measure, criticized it as the start of Trump’s push to fortify the southwest U.S. border.
- The bill makes it easier for immigration officials to deport immigrants suspected of involvement in gangs, mirroring a measure that passed the House mostly along party lines. Flake also added language that would target suspected cartel members.
- The bill would also authorize U.S. Customs and Border Protection to build more access roads to help patrol remote areas along the border, and to work with local governments to maintain roads that border agents frequently use.
There are at least four other bills in Congress that deal with dreamers: the Dream Act, which Flake also supports; the Recognizing America’s Children’s Act, which Flake’s legislation is based on; the American Hope Act; and the SUCCEED Act.
Democrats largely support the Dream Act, while Republicans proposed the SUCCEED Act, which has a longer path to citizenship and calls for reducing overall immigration by limiting immigrants’ ability to sponsor family members for green cards.
In response to Flake’s bill, immigrant advocates and dreamers urged Congress to instead pass a stand-alone bill.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigration-advocacy group, said Flake’s bill is unlikely to gain needed support from across the aisle.
Democrats have indicated they might be open to a compromise that includes increased border-security spending — though not a wall — in exchange for GOP support of a legalization program for dreamers. They will not support legislation that also calls for increased interior enforcement, Sharry said.
He added that immigrant advocates view those measures as an attempt by Republicans “to get us on a slippery slope” that ultimately results in dreamers being protected while their parents become more vulnerable to deportation.
“We think very highly of Senator Flake. He has been principled and courageous on immigration and arguably risks his political career when he does so,” Sharry said. But the interior-enforcement measures in his bill “are a non-starter.”
“The bottom line is: Democrats, under pressure from the pro-immigrant movement, are not going to support something that is going to make it easier to deport members of dreamers’ families,” Sharry said.
Greisa Martinez, advocacy director for United We Dream and a DACA recipient, said she appreciated Flake’s attempt to find a common ground between Republicans and Democrats to pass dreamer legislation.
But her group remains committed to passing the Dream Act, which calls for an 11-year pathway to citizenship for dreamers. Flake is a co-sponsor of the Dream Act.
“We don’t need another bill to be able to cloud the field. What we need is for him to champion the Dream Act,” Martinez said. “The American public is clear. They want the Dream Act. They support immigrant young people. They support a pathway to citizenship.”
Flake said that even though previous efforts to legalize dreamers has failed, this time the calculus is different. Some 800,000 young immigrants depend on immediate action.
He insisted his bill is the best way forward, and a lot better than the alternative — doing nothing.
“You do the best you can with legislation. It’s never perfect,” Flake said. “People are always left out. You just do the best you can, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”
azcentral Rewind: Trump’s wind down of DACA | 5:18
President Donald Trump’s administration announced the wind down of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, that President Obama enacted several years ago. This is what you should know. Sean Logan/The Republic
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Attorney explains what’s happening with DACA | 1:02
Ray Ybarra Maldonado talks about the program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals being rescinded on Sept. 5, 2017, at press conference outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix. Mark Henle/azcentral.com
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The difference between DACA and the Dream act | 2:30
Reporter Dianna M. Náñez interviews Belen Sisa, a DACA recipient and ASU student, about what the DACA is and the difference between DACA and the Dream Act.
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What are the requirements of DACA? | 1:25
Reporter Dianna M. Náñez interviews Belen Sisa, a DACA recipient and ASU student, about what the requirements are for becoming a DACA recipient.
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What is the cost of DACA? | 0:53
Reporter Dianna M. Náñez interviews Belen Sisa, a DACA recipient and ASU student, about what the cost of DACA is.
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DACA recipients and supporters hold press conference outside ICE building | 1:24
Phoenix residents Korina Iribe and Daniela Benitez discuss Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a press conference in downtown Phoenix on Aug. 29, 2017. Sean Logan/azcentral.com
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azcentral Rewind: Trump’s wind down of DACA
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DACA recipients and supporters hold press conference outside ICE building
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