Americans who support Dreamers should be lobbying Congress, not protesting Trump

Go tell Congress.
Go tell Congress.
Image: (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

US attorney general Jeff Sessions announced this morning (Sept. 5) that the government is rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, further spreading outrage and protests across the country.

After yesterday’s candlelight vigil in front of the home of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, protests are planned for today (Sept. 5), including at the Trump Tower in New York City. In Denver, some students walked out of schools after the announcement, and protests are planned throughout Colorado and other western states. Demonstrators from the US east coast are joining a protest in front of the White House that has been going on round-the-clock for more than a week.

The protests are being aimed at US president Donald Trump (and his family), deeming him responsible for putting at least 780,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children at risk of repatriation.

Ending DACA had been one of Trump’s campaign promises, though he has flip-flopped on the issue—professing his love for the DREAMers (the beneficiaries of DACA) and his intention of approaching the matter with a “big heart” in January and as recently as Friday (Sept. 1). But Sessions’ declaration that the Obama policy “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens” seems to signal a return to this government’s original rhetoric. 

Still, it’s short-sighted to focus lobbying efforts on the president. Yes, Trump holds complete responsibility for giving in to the threat, advanced by 11 attorneys general and governors, to sue the government over DACA. On Tuesday, Sessions suggested that ending DACA was in part a response to that. “If we were to keep the Obama Administration’s executive amnesty policy, the likeliest outcome is that it would be enjoined,” he said.  Sessions, who is part of a group of immigration hardliners in the Trump administration, also alluded to Trump’s promises to vigorously enforce immigration laws.

Even so, the president is not the one to blame for the precariousness of DACA, or the fact that it’s so easy to discontinue. The program was a quick fix by the Obama administration to provide some relief amid a legislative battle that had been going on for more than a decade. DACA only provides temporary deferral, forcing DREAMers to apply every two years, with a fee of $495.

The reason for such a provisory measure is that various versions of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act have been stuck in Congress since 2001. At least 20 DREAM or DREAM-related bills or amendments have been presented in Congress, but the reform always failed to pass, despite enjoying wide support among Americans. At least 60% of citizens support DACA, and 73% of Americans believe Republicans in Congress should focus on a comprehensive immigration reform that doesn’t necessarily get rid of everything done by the Obama administration. 

With this kind of support, the most effective way to do something for the DREAMers is to turn the attention away from the president and toward Congress, lobbying elected representatives to make regulating the status of DREAMers in a permanent way a priority. Indeed, that is the outcome the president is pushing for as well. 

“This is a gradual process, not a sudden phase out,” Trump said in a statement. “Permits will not begin to expire for another six months, and will remain active for up to 24 months. Thus, in effect, I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act.” As a result, Congress has about six months to ensure DREAMers don’t lose rights.

It may be the biggest opportunity yet to break through partisan bickering over immigration. Trump’s decision has lent urgency to the matter, and also triggered vows of support for DREAMers from people who had rebuked DACA before. One (critical) case in point: House speaker Paul Ryan, who in a statement expressed the “hope that the House and Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution.”

“That’s a new level of commitment that we haven’t seen before,” said Doris Meissner, an immigration expert at the Migration Policy Institute.

Still, it’s going to be hard to overcome the Republican opposition, particularly in the House, that has kept the DREAM Act from passing before, she added.

Although some of Trump’s supporters may be celebrating today’s decision, others are disappointed the program wasn’t completely stopped. They will likely put pressure on Congress to throw out any proposals that would grant DREAMers legal status.

“We’re certainly out there,” said Robert Law, director of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which is against any kind of relief for DACA recipients after the program ends.

His hunch is that the majority of Republicans agree with him, so he doesn’t expect Congress to consider the DREAM Act as a standalone bill. But he said it could be tied up with other pieces of legislation as a negotiating chip. Either way, “there will be a fight,” he said.

This may even be what Trump, or his advisors, are aiming at: Pleasing his base by rescinding DACA while effectively pressuring Congress to deal with a piece of legislation that has strong bipartisan support.

Heather Timmons contributed to this report.