1. Update
  2. Immigrants & Refugees

Passing the Dream Act: What You Can Do

By Hannah Graf Evans, October 10, 2017

We have a very short window in which we need to get Congress to act and pass legislation that protects young immigrants who grew up in the United States from deportation and allows them to study, work, and live in the country they consider home.

Call transcript from 10/10/2017

There have been a lot of developments over just the last month since President Trump canceled their protection, and the purpose of this call is to give you an update on the state of play and how you can be most effective at taking action.

As a refresher: The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is an administrative program that was in place for 5 years. Over that time almost 800,000 immigrants who grew up in this country undocumented could apply to work legally in the United States free from fear of deportation. Recipients had to fit certain qualifications and renew their status every two years. 70% of recipients were 10 years old or younger when they came to the United States, and 71% have a U.S. citizen spouse, sibling, or child. The average age of DACA recipients is 25.

President Trump canceled the program in September and as of a few days ago no renewals are being considered. If Congress does not act, work permits will begin to expire on a daily basis and DACA recipients will be at risk of deportation.

In the years that the program was in place, it became clear that not only did the program transform the lives of DACA recipients; it also made communities all over the country stronger when Dreamers were able to contribute to their communities without fear of deportation. Finding a permanent solution for Dreamers – one that includes a pathway to citizenship – is one crucial part of aligning our immigration system with our values and the world we seek.

What should people be doing to drum up support for Dreamers around the country?

So as you mentioned Congress has a very short window to act to protect Dreamers. All of you on the call have likely been getting our action alerts, call-alerts, and emails on asking your member of Congress to pass the Dream Act which would provide a swift pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. In addition to calling and emailing (constantly) we are asking people around the country to escalate in three ways:

1) Do in-district lobby visits – request to meet with the member of Congress – the Senate is on recess Oct 9-13 and the House is on recess Oct 16-20. We are looking for folks to set up visits asking for Congress to pass the Dream Act into law.

2) Write a letter to the editor or an op-ed – members of Congress pay attention to local media and what people are saying. They especially pay attention when they are asked to do something directly since they all have google alerts with their names. Write publically about how you want them to support a swift pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, by passing the Dream Act into law.

3) Plan a public Dream Sabbath event; invite your member of Congress. FCNL co-chairs the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and we’ve recently re-launched a toolkit on Dream Sabbath events – these are activities that people of faith put on publically to stand in support of Dreamers and call on Congress to pass the Dream Act. Dream Sabbath events were key in getting support for previous iterations of the Dream Act and even in instating DACA. We’re trying to get 1,000 events on the map by late October. In-district visits, writing for media, and other public events count as Dream Sabbath if they are organized by people of faith.

Every member of Congress needs to be hearing about the Dream Act. Republicans need to hear more of an outpouring of support for a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. And Democrats need to be hearing that they should continue to prioritize this. Both need to be hearing that we do not want protections for Dreamers to come at the expense of other immigrants or the safety of border communities.

So if you are interested in engaging in any of these three – in-district visits, writing for media, or putting on a Dream Sabbath event please reach out to me Hannah@fcnl.org or look for additional resources when we send out a recording of the call!

There are some competing pieces of legislation in Congress on this issue, what are those bills and why are we at FCNL advocating for the Dream Act instead?

There are now three main bills introduced that will protect Dreamers from deportation and provide a pathway to citizenship. We are advocating for the Dream Act, because it provides a path to citizenship for the widest array of Dreamers, including DACA recipients.

The bills can get very technical, but briefly, there are a few main differences between the three. The first differences are the requirements of how long applicants need to demonstrate they’ve been in the U.S., and how young they needed to be when they arrived. Each bill varies in how restrictive they are to people who have had prior run-ins with the criminal justice system – and what run-ins make people ineligible. And there are also differences around the timeline of the pathway to citizenship, the steps applicants have to go through in order to adjust their status to the next part of the process, and how and when applicants need to fulfill new or ongoing requirements for eligibility.

The Dream Act of 2017 (H.R. 3440/S. 1615) is the only bipartisan piece of legislation in both the House and the Senate. Of all the bills I’ll mention, it provides the shortest and most work-able pathway to citizenship for the widest array of immigrants. It’s estimated that 1.5 million people would have access to citizenship under Dream. This is also the only bill that offers a shorter pathway for people who have successfully applied for and received DACA or already completed the requirements to move onto the next status. The Dream Act is the bill that Dreamers have asked Congress to work on, and we need every member of Congress to hear from you that they should co-sponsor the Dream Act of 2017 and push for its provisions to become law.

There are two other bills to be aware of however:

The Recognizing America’s Children Act (RAC) Act (H.R. 1468) would provide a pathway to citizenship. It’s only been introduced in the House, and it’s picking up steam with House Republicans and it now has 33 Republican sponsors. It outlines a 10-year process before DACA recipients would be eligible to apply for naturalization. The age requirements are a little more restrictive than Dream Act, and it’s estimated that just fewer than 1 million people would be would have access to citizenship. It’s a good bill, but it’s a longer process than Dream.

The SUCCEED Act (S. 1852) was just introduced by Sen Tillis (NC), Lankford (OK), and Hatch (UT) in the Senate and has been dubbed the “conservative fix” for Dreamers. Before it was introduced people were expecting it to be similar to the RAC Act but it has some pretty key differences that FCNL opposes including:

  • A requirement that individuals sign away their rights to other forms of immigration relief should they unintentionally fall out of step with the requirements of a 15-year process

  • Certain individuals would be newly subject to expedited removal under this bill. FCNL advocates that all individuals navigating the immigration system deserve to have their case reviewed by an immigration judge prior to deportation, yet the current use of “expedited removal” violates that fundamental right to due process.

  • In order adjust their status individuals would not be able to access certain public benefits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is currently available for DACA recipients and could help them put food on the table or keep their heat on

  • Unrelated to Dreamers – increases penalties for visa overstays, and takes away authority for the president to grant humanitarian and other forms of parole

For both RAC and SUCCEED, it is not a small thing that it outlines a pathway to citizenship. They are Republican-led and this is a very divisive issue in the caucus. We know that the sponsors of this bill are getting push back about including a pathway – slammed for supporting so-called “amnesty”. We know that they included these harsher provisions in SUCCEED because they anticipated that backlash, but even including those provisions did not dissuade groups who will probably never be supportive of a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

So our job is to be louder in our support not only for a pathway to citizenship, but also for a pathway that is workable, and a bill that doesn’t exacerbate the injustices of our immigration system that already exist.

If you are from NC, OK, or UT please do thank Senators Tillis, Lankford, and Hatch for supporting Dreamers and ask that they go even further by supporting provisions laid out in the Dream Act.

Many of you are also from states with Republican Senators who are considering this bill as equal to RAC, or that it is a “common sense, conservative” pathway for Dreamers but it’s not – it has some very troubling pieces that we do not want to see become law. We need those Senators to hear that we’d like them to support the Dream Act instead because it will leave us at a better spot on the negotiating table.

How do you see this process going forward?

Realistically, we are not expecting any of these bills to go forward exactly the way that they are written, because every bill goes through a certain amount of transformation through Congress but also because it’s very hard to pass stand-alone bills. Going through strict regular process on this issue would frankly not be to our benefit because a) it would take a lot of time, and b) it would be likely that the best parts would be stripped out and more harmful provisions would be added.

There are currently negotiations happening to figure out how to package protective Dreamer legislation in order to push it through. There are a few different groups working on this including a task force pulled together by Speaker Ryan, Democrats have talked about this with President Trump, and there are informal bipartisan conversations that are ongoing.

The cleanest way that the Dream Act could get brought up is to have protective language attached to legislation that is considered “must-pass,” or to go through an irregular procedural method to force a clean vote on the floor.

Still, the most common idea being floated is trying to pair it with border security or other related immigration legislation. So in Washington, we are doing education on the Hill about the accountability pieces that are currently missing from border enforcement and that Congress must prioritize before any other increased enforcement. We are talking about the impact that current enforcement practices are having on immigrants and their families and communities, we are sharing stories about Dreamers and what impact the Dream Act would have on their lives.

Unfortunately, President Trump over the weekend released his so-called “principles” for immigration reform that contain a lot of non-starters for us including increased border militarization and a wall, blocking access to asylum for unaccompanied children, and slashing legal immigration numbers in half.

What do you think the release of those principles does to the ongoing negotiations?

Well, it certainly complicates them. But now it’s time for the math portion of the evening -- We need 218 members of Congress to vote for legislation that includes this in the house, and 60 in the Senate. In just the last month every single Democrat cosponsored the Dream Act. We need 24 Republicans in the House to express support for the provisions outlined in the Dream Act, and indicate that they would vote for it becoming law.

In the Senate, bipartisan support for any deal on immigration is necessary because it requires 60 votes, which Republicans control 52-48. So whatever deal they come up with they need to have at least 8 Democrats join them – but any bill that has a chance of getting passed needs to be much more bipartisan than that.

We know that President Trump’s demands will not go over well with Senate Democrats and we need to keep the narrative going that they are unacceptable and shouldn’t even be entertained as feasible. Beyond a partisan split, some provisions are considered nonstarters with Republicans as well.

And we can’t get distracted from our message – we want Congress to immediately pass legislation that protects Dreamers. The release of these principles from the White House is a distraction from our immediate goal – pass legislation that offers a pathway to citizenship to Dreamers who grew up in this country, registered with the government, only call this country their home, and contribute our economies and communities every day.

The outlandish requests from the White House really just mean that more power lies with the ongoing negotiations between a bipartisan group of lawmakers who will have to come together in order to get this done and come up with a solution. We want the Dream Act to be that solution, and we need to keep on building out support for bipartisan momentum to pass the Dream Act into law, that does not negatively impact other immigrant and border communities.

So what can people do to help advance this issue?

The grassroots push really needs to stays the same – work towards a clean passage of the Dream Act into law. We also need grassroots to be pushing and raising the issue, just as we are doing in D.C. and reminding members of Congress that you – as their constituents - are not asking them to increase purported border security, or detention, or immigration enforcement, you are asking them to pass the Dream Act into law.

On the grassroots level, members of Congress need to hear directly from their constituencies that protections for Dreamers should not be paired with policies that would put their parents or siblings at increased risk. Protections for Dreamers should not be attached to border militarization that puts communities and migrants at increased risk. We need to use the power of all of you across the country to lift up the task that Congress has been presented with: Protect the Dreamers from deportation, and do so without adding to the existing injustices within our immigration system.

And that is where the three escalation pieces come into play –

1) Do in-district lobby visits – request to meet with the member of Congress – the Senate is on recess Oct 9-13 and the House is on recess Oct 16-20.

2) Write a letter to the editor or an op-ed.

3) Plan a public Dream Sabbath event; invite your member of Congress.

And as you are planning these, or thinking about planning them please do reach out to Hannah@fcnl.org because we are trying to track all of the momentum around the country.

Hannah Graf Evans

  • Legislative Representative, Immigration and Refugee Policy

Hannah Graf Evans leads FCNL's lobbying for compassionate immigration and refugee policies, with a particular focus on detention practices, the rights of border communities, and protection of vulnerable communities. Hannah served as co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition steering committee for three years and still plays an active role in pursuing shared policy priorities of the more than 50 faith-based member organizations.