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Immigrant advocates pan scope of eligibility for new ‘Dreamers’ rule

Biden administration kept same requirements as original program, which means that soon no new applicant would qualify

California Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla speaks during a rally in June to urge Congress to enshrine protections for so-called Dreamers.
California Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla speaks during a rally in June to urge Congress to enshrine protections for so-called Dreamers. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Immigrant advocates criticized the Biden administration’s new rule to fortify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which aims to preserve the embattled program amid legal challenges but does not expand eligibility to younger immigrants.

During a press call Thursday, advocates from immigrant groups condemned the administration’s decision to leave in place eligibility requirements laid out in the original 2012 Homeland Security Department memo creating the program. DACA protects more than 600,000 so-called Dreamers from deportation and allows them to live and work legally in the U.S.

But the rule requires DACA applicants to have arrived in the U.S. before June 2007 to qualify, which bars young immigrants who arrived in the past 15 years. Applicants also must have been younger than 16 when they entered.

According to a report published in May by the advocacy group, most of the 100,000 undocumented high school students who graduated this year are ineligible.

“Yesterday’s rule essentially takes the DACA program from 2012 and turns it into a fossil,” said Karen Tumlin, founder and director of the Justice Action Center. “That is because the rule essentially codified the 2012 memo without expanding dates for eligibility, even though we are rapidly approaching the moment by which no new applicant could apply.”

For the time being, the unchanged eligibility requirements don’t have an immediate impact because of a July 2021 court ruling that blocked the DACA program from accepting new applicants. The ruling preserved the ability of current applicants to renew their protection.

An appeals court heard oral arguments in that case in July and is currently weighing the overall program’s fate.

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Judiciary’s immigration subcommittee, chastised the Homeland Security Department for not going further in its rulemaking but acknowledged the role of Congress in providing permanent protection for “Dreamers.”

“While I would have liked to have seen DACA eligibility expanded and for other reforms to be made to the program, it’s clear Congress must take action,” Padilla said.

Lawmakers have repeatedly failed to enshrine protections for “Dreamers” into law. Late last year, Democrats tried to include legislative protections for undocumented immigrants in a sweeping budget reconciliation package, but the proposal was nixed by the Senate parliamentarian.

In March 2021, the House passed a bill to provide a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers,” but the Senate has not considered that bill.

During the press call, immigrant advocates suggested that lawmakers’ failure to enact protections for “Dreamers” could imperil their electoral success.

“If we go into 2023, 2024, and there are young people, immigrant young people with DACA losing their protection, being detained or deported — every single one of those things are on the Biden administration and Democrats,” said Bruna Sollod, communications director at United We Dream, an advocacy group for immigrant youth. “We will make sure that they know that every single detention, deportation has their name stamped on it.”