Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) wants to open jobs in Congress to undocumented young people allowed to stay and work in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
On Wednesday, the senator plans to introduce a bill with Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that would allow DACA recipients to obtain paid jobs in Congress. Even though the roughly 700,000 participants in the program are allowed to legally work, they are barred from paid roles in Congress. So-called Dreamers can still intern on Capitol Hill ― they just can’t get paid for it.
Only U.S. citizens or permanent residents planning to become citizens are currently able to be employed in the House or Senate. The new “American Dream Employment Act” would amend the current appropriations law to include DACA recipients as a category of people eligible for paid employment on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers introduced a similar bill in the House earlier this year, and so far, 57 congresspeople are co-sponsoring it. All but one, Rep. Jenniffer González Colón of Puerto Rico, are Democrats.
The legislation is unlikely to become law due to Republican control of the Senate and President Donald Trump, but it is a signal of the type of immigration policy Harris would support should she prevail in 2020.
“The giant sign outside my office says ‘DREAMers Welcome Here’ because we know and value the contributions that these young people have made to their communities,” Harris said in a statement. “But right now, those same young people are banned from giving back to their country by working for Congress. That has to change.”
Noting that Dreamers are “some of our best and brightest,” the 2020 candidate added that “government works best when it reflects the people it represents.”
Until now, DACA recipients have worked on the Hill as interns in unpaid volunteer positions or in paid fellowships funded by third parties. Many have also worked on political campaigns, which they can legally be paid for. This legislation would ensure that Dreamers can work full-time for lawmakers in Congress and be paid by the U.S. government to do so.
“I’ve been proud to have several Dreamers work in my office as volunteer interns,” Durbin said in the release, noting he’s seen “firsthand” how his constituents would benefit from having Dreamers as paid employees.
Harris has also had several unpaid interns in her Senate office who were Dreamers, her team told HuffPost.
“With programs like DACA ... undocumented immigrant youth had the chance to live and thrive without the fear of deportation, but they were still barred from paid employment on Capitol Hill,” Greisa Martínez Rosas, a DACA recipient and deputy executive director of immigrant rights group United We Dream, said in the release. “This bill and similar proactive policies would open the door for immigrant youth to access opportunities within the halls of Congress.”
The status of Dreamers in the country remains in limbo, as Trump ended the Obama-era DACA policy in September 2017 and Congress has not since acted to permanently protect DACA recipients. Court decisions have so far kept the program in place.
The Trump administration has a long record of anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric. All undocumented immigrants ― not just those with criminal histories ― have become targets for deportation under Trump. The president has demanded more than $5 billion for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border (a demand that led to a standoff with lawmakers late last year and a record-long partial government shutdown). Thousands of migrant children were separated from their parents at the U.S. border as part of Trump’s hard-line “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
Martínez Rosas said she hopes to see lawmakers do even more for undocumented communities.
“Our communities need more solutions which reject sending more money to the deportation force and instead deliver citizenship, family unity, and dignity for all,” she said in the release.