Update on DACA

Under pressure from various states, President Trump opted to terminate the DACA program, leaving thousands of DACA recipients in a considerable bind. Although the President had previously promised that DACA recipients would not have to worry about their status, a handful of states threatened to settle the issue in court, which would likely have resulted in a court-ordered termination of the program. Rather than have the Justice Department put forward a lackluster defense of the program, the President has shifted the burden to Congress to legislate a permanent solution for DACA recipients before the program ends in March 2018.

Unlike the 112th to 114th Congresses, which refused to work with President Obama on this issue, the 115th Congress is actually poised to enact a concrete solution. The best approach has been the Dream Act of 2017, which has been introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Eligibility is predicated on entering the U.S. as a minor, being present for at least four years, and having no criminal background. For those eligible, a conditional green card is granted for an eight year period. In order to remove the conditions and become a full-fledged permanent resident, the applicant needs to accomplish two years of college, two years of military service, or three years of employment during the conditional period, as well as maintain residence in the U.S. and have no criminal offenses. Successfully removing the conditions will put these individuals on the path to citizenship. The Dream Act is focused, has the most bipartisan support, and would help the most people. Republican proposals, like the RAC (Recognizing America’s Children) Act and the SUCCEED Act, are similar but have more stringent eligibility requirements and reach fewer individuals. The American Hope Act introduced by Democratic Representative Gutierrez falls at the opposite end of the spectrum, and is the least restrictive and most generous, but lacks bipartisan support. However, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has placed its support behind the Dream Act as the most reasonable bipartisan solution.

The most recent congressional hearing on DACA took place on October 3. Senators posed tough questions to DHS and DOJ officials, but received little specific details as to what sort of compromise the Administration would accept. It is difficult to predict which of these bills will eventually gain the support and momentum needed to resolve the long-term legal status of DACA recipients, but there is hope that Congress will act.