Democratic leaders on Wednesday called on the Senate to pass legislation to enshrine permanent protections for young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, a decade after the Obama administration announced a program to give them temporary relief.
In events marking the anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, House and Senate Democrats urged Senate action on a House-passed bill to put these immigrants, often known as Dreamers, on a path to citizenship.
“We are not giving up,” Sen. Alex Padilla, the California Democrat in charge of the Senate’s immigration subcommittee, said at a rally outside the Capitol with dozens of Dreamers and other immigrant advocates.
Later in the day, Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who has spearheaded legislative efforts to protect Dreamers for more than two decades, said it is “time for Congress to step up and meet our responsibility.”
“Democrats, Republicans and independents alike, let’s get this done,” Durbin said on the Senate floor.
Announced by then-President Barack Obama on June 15, 2012, DACA provides work permits and deportation protections to certain immigrants who arrived in the U.S. by June 2007 when they were children.
Though intended as a temporary measure to prevent the deportation of children who grew up in the country, Congress has so far not passed legislation that would put them on a path to citizenship.
Most recently, the House passed legislation in March 2021 with some bipartisan support that would allow certain populations of immigrants without legal status, including Dreamers and those living under temporary humanitarian programs, to apply for green cards.
But the bill has yet to move in the evenly divided Senate, where legislation needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. And now, the future of DACA hangs in the courts, where an appeals court is considering a challenge to the program’s legality.
Speaking at an afternoon event in the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., highlighted the existence of the ongoing court litigation that threatens to strike down DACA and leave thousands of individuals who grew up in the U.S. at risk of deportation.
If the appeals court rules against the program, “we need to be prepared to make respect for our Dreamers the law of the land,” Pelosi said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., also lamented the 10-year milestone of congressional inaction on immigration.
“Let us pray that we do not have another anniversary where we honor DACA with DACA students, teachers, and doctors,” Hoyer said at the event, “but we honor teachers who are citizens, doctors who are citizens, students who are citizens.”
Salazar, one of the nine Republicans to vote in favor of the House’s Dreamer bill, blamed Democrats for promising Hispanic communities there would be changes to the immigration system for decades, but not delivering.
“They’re using us as chips. They’re using us as pawns. No more,” Salazar said after the rally. “So that’s the message I’m bringing to the GOP: Let’s welcome my people.”
But progress toward immigration has been sluggish on the other side of the Capitol. A bipartisan group of senators have been meeting regularly to identify narrower immigration measures that could generate bipartisan support, but early talks have focused on border security concerns.
California Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration panel, said she has continued having conversations with senators about the need for immigration legislation, but “they seem a little stuck over there.”
Durbin said Senate Republicans like John Cornyn of Texas who have worked on immigration issues are “consumed” with gun safety negotiations, but that he hopes the senators can return to the immigration issue soon.
Some Democrats expressed hope that bipartisan progress on gun control negotiations could open a door for similar cooperation on immigration changes.
“It appears that the country is responding to gun violence,” said Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, D-Ill., at the afternoon conference. “We hope that that will be an opening that offers hope, that will ensure that the partisan gridlock that has prevented the bill from passing in the Senate can be overcome.”
But with midterm elections approaching, the window for action is quickly closing.
Senate negotiators said last week they were unlikely to put forward a compromise proposal on immigration before leaving Washington in August. Republicans, who have generally opposed proposals to legalize undocumented immigrants, are expected to flip one or both chambers of Congress.
“It must happen this year,” Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Committee, told CQ Roll Call.