Here's What Congress Can Do To Save 800,000 Dreamers From Deportation

by Joseph D. Lyons
Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

President Trump made one of the most controversial moves of his presidency Tuesday, announcing the end of the DACA program that granted temporary legal status and work permits for 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the country as minors. The announcement, made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was clear: it was now up to Congress to pass an immigration bill it long had trouble with. But believing that Congress will do anything about DACA and its recipients — known as "Dreamers" — might be a stretch.

The DREAM Act — essentially a legislative version of DACA — came up for a vote first in 2007. It won a majority, but then was filibustered. Then in 2010 it passed the House but not the Senate. The main tenets were also included in the bipartisan 2013 Senate bill that got 68 senators on board didn't pass the House.

The near successes of the past show what Congress can do. It could pass the DREAM Act now, either independently or as part of a comprehensive immigration package, as the White House has signaled they would prefer. "We've got to do an overall immigration reform that is responsible and frankly that’s lawful," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a news briefing Tuesday. “The goal here is that Congress actually fixes the problem."

But don't hold your breath for things to be different this time. Sure, there's an impending six-month deadline set by Trump. But there's also the view by many Americans that Congress is a do-nothing body; in August just 16 percent of the country approves of how Congress members were doing their job.

This would be an opportunity to improve their standing, especially given that 76 percent of Americans support letting Dreamers stay, and just 15 percent favor deportation. Among Republicans, 69 percent want them to stay, meaning that this is far from a partisan issue.

Unfortunately, though, Dreamers may be used as a bargaining chip in the fight for a "comprehensive" immigration package. Some senators, like Charles Grassley of Iowa, seem to want to hold the DACA recipients hostage to get what they want in a bigger bill:

Any legislative solution is going to have to be a compromise that addresses the status of those who have been unlawfully brought to this country and upholds the rule of law. President Trump should continue to work with Congress to pass reforms through the legislative process that encourage lawful immigration.

The problem is that on immigration — at least besides the DREAM Act — there's very little agreement between Democrats and Republicans. And now times are more polarized than ever.

For many immigration advocates, passing the DREAM Act is the right thing to do. Dreamers go to school here and are already integrated into their communities. Since DACA, many have been working, buying houses, and having kids. They were even saving people in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

But unfortunately, it's not a question of whether the DREAM Act or something similar can pass Congress. It's more a matter of whether it will even come up for a vote, if politicians decide to put politics ahead of the lives of 800,000 people.