The 117th Congress is set to adjourn this week without passing permanent protections for so-called Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and have lived here for years.
Democrats and immigration advocates had urged Congress to pass legislation shielding Dreamers from deportation because of mounting GOP challenges to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA. The Obama-era initiative has allowed hundreds of thousands of immigrants to remain in the U.S. and work legally since its 2012 inception.
Last year, a Texas judge declared DACA illegal but allowed it to continue temporarily for current recipients, who number around 600,000. The 6-3 conservative Supreme Court is expected to take up the case as soon as next year.
Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) floated a bipartisan proposal earlier this month that would have provided two million Dreamers a path to citizenship in exchange for tougher border enforcement and significant changes to the asylum system. But it quickly fizzled after objections from Republican immigration hard-liners and some progressives.
A last-ditch effort to include relief for Dreamers and other immigrants in the $1.7 trillion government funding bill also failed.
“This is terrible, entirely unacceptable, and devastating — for our entire country, but more acutely for the two million people and their millions of family members who are being failed by this country,” Todd Schulte, president of immigration advocacy group FWD.us, said in a statement.
“DACA remains under urgent, existential threat, and will likely be terminated by the courts in the near future,” Schulte added. “Congress’ failure means that if DACA ends before legislation is passed, the result will be a new group of approximately 1,000 DACA recipients each and every day losing their jobs and being put at risk of deportation - every day, Monday through Friday - for the next two years. It would be a disaster.”
It’s possible that the Sinema-Tillis deal will get a second look next year in the new Congress, but with Republicans set to take control of the House, the likelihood of passing even the narrowest immigration bill looks even more unlikely.
House GOP lawmakers have vowed to pass additional funding to finish the construction of former President Donald Trump’s border wall, as well as other measures that would detain or turn away migrants who arrive at the border. The U.S. set a record for migrant border crossings this year, and the Biden administration is expecting even higher numbers next year. Many of those detained at the border are seeking asylum.
Congress’ record on immigration reform has been ripe with failure. Though the Senate approved a bipartisan immigration overhaul that included a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in 2013, the GOP-controlled House never took it up. In 2018, Democrats offered Trump $25 billion for border wall construction in exchange for a path to citizenship for Dreamers, but he declined.
In 2019 and 2021, the Democrat-controlled House passed legislation granting a path to citizenship for 2.5 million Dreamers as well as the 400,000 immigrants living in the country with temporary protected status, or TPS. The bill languished in the Senate due to opposition from GOP senators, who demanded tougher border security measures in return.
“I think you’d have a lot of interest in some type of comprehensive reform based upon a secure border,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) told HuffPost on Thursday. “And until you get a secure border, you’re probably not going to have anybody interested in doing comprehensive immigration reform.”
Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.