Having decided to rescind DACA—Barack Obama’s executive order that protects from deportation some 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children—US president Donald Trump has given Congress six months to pass a law to replace it with.
In a tight legislative window, there are currently four bills contending (pdf). We spoke to immigration lawyer Greg Siskind and Joshua Breisblatt, a senior policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, for a breakdown of what they contain.
The Dream Act
The Dream Act has been introduced in Congress several times, with variations, since 2001. (Obama enacted DACA in 2012 because of the legislative impasse.) While DACA only gives immigrants the right to apply for a two-year renewable stay, the 2017 Dream Act would give them a 13-year path to citizenship after enrolling in the Dream program (eight years of “conditional permanent residency,” then five years of “legal permanent residency”). It’s more generous than the original 2001 version in two ways, according to Siskind:
- Enrollment would be open to anyone who had arrived in the US before the age of 18 and spent at least four years in the country. To be eligible for DACA you have to have arrived before age 16 and spent five years in the US.
- It covers immigrants under Temporary Protected Status (TPS)—what Siskind calls the “next big looming crisis in immigration.” These are roughly 300,000 adults and children whose home country is suffering from disaster or civil war and are protected from being deported back there; most recently Syrians following the start of the civil war. They expect to be targeted for deportation next by the Trump administration, but the Dream Act would give both them and DACA recipients a way to stay.
The bill has heavyweight bipartisan support. Senior Republican senator Lindsey Graham introduced it, and its 10 co-sponsors include the Democrats’ Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer. A 2010 version of this bill passed in the House but fell four votes short of getting through the Senate, eventually being killed (paywall) in a bipartisan filibuster.
The Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act
The RAC Act is “very similar to the way the Dream Act is structured, but it’s going to cover much fewer people,” says Siskind, because it doesn’t cover with people under Temporary Protected Status. And there are three other main differences:
- The RAC Act wouldn’t allow people who have ignored a deportation order to apply. The Dream Act would, as long as they haven’t committed a felony.
- Under the RAC, if you’re over 18, you have to have a high-school diploma. Under Dream, you can still be studying for one.
- The RAC Act can give a slightly faster path to citizenship than the Dream Act: 10 years versus 13 years.
These differences add up. The Migration Policy Institute has estimated that about 3.3 million people would be eligible to apply for legal residency under Dream versus 2.5 million under RAC.
The bill has quickly gained traction among conservatives in the House—it’s piled up 27 co-sponsors since being introduced by Florida representative Carlos Curbelo. No Democrats have signed on.
The Bridge Act
Essentially a “kick-the-can-down-the-road” option, the Bridge Act lets those eligible for DACA, or currently covered by it, stay in the US for a maximum three more years after their DACA permit expires. It doesn’t give them a path to citizenship. It has picked up 25 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House.
This is considered a much less likely option than the first two: “It is basically like creating DACA in legislative form without any additional permanent status to it, which is why I think a lot of people have not paid as much attention to it, because members of Congress don’t want to be revisiting this in three years if they do take the vote to do something,” says Breisblatt.
The American Hope Act
The Hope Act doesn’t cover immigrants protected by TPS, but is otherwise the most pro-immigrant option. It offers a path to citizenship in as few as five years, doesn’t have any education or military service requirements (unlike all the other bills), and applicants need to have been in the US continuously only since Dec. 31, 2016. Dream demands they have been there for four years before the law’s enactment.
It’s also an unlikely option: The bill has 150 co-sponsors in the House, but all are Democrats.
Which one will pass?
There’s a lot of support for letting people who came to the US as children stay, one way or another. Five Republican senators have co-sponsored the Dream Act—meaning it already has enough to pass 50 votes in the Senate, if the 48 Democrats back it. A much more comprehensive immigration reform bill, which would have given around 11 million immigrants legal status while imposing tougher border security, got 14 Republicans to cross the aisle in 2013. Replicating those numbers would give it a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
In the House, 28 Republicans have backed the RAC. If all 194 Democrats were to get on board, that would be enough for it to pass.
So, both chambers have the votes to pass some kind of DACA replacement bill, and Trump seems to be willing to sign it.
Two questions remain, however. First, can the parties agree on the details of the bill? Second, will House speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican party chieftains who control what Congress votes on, allow a putative bill to go to a vote?
Former speaker John Boehner killed the 2013 immigration reform bill by holding it back (paywall) from the House floor. Advocates like Breisblatt hope that Trump’s promise to revisit the issue if Congress doesn’t get anywhere will be enough to “nudge them into action.” Ryan, at least, has suggested those covered by DACA should “rest easy,” adding (paywall) that Trump’s six month window “gave us the time and space we’re going to need to find where that compromise is.”