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Texas Is Seen As Crucial For The Dream Act To Pass In Congress In December

Activists are advocating for a ‘clean’ bill that is not subject to border security or immigration enforcement provisions, which has become a crucial element in the negotiations between Democrats and Republicans for the budget bill

Several DACA recipients and supporters of the DREAM Act gathered at the University of Houston's main campus on November 9, 2017, to ask Congress to pass the law before the end of the year.
Photo courtesy of United We Dream (UWD)
Several DACA recipients and supporters of the DREAM Act gathered at the University of Houston’s main campus on November 9, 2017, to ask Congress to pass the law before the end of the year.

The clock is ticking for almost 700,000 undocumented immigrants who are benefiting from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, established by President Barack Obama in 2012, and immigration activists are convinced that politicians who represent Texas in Congress are crucial to give DACA recipients a legislative relief they are eagerly waiting for.

Activists, supported by a nationwide campaign, want Congress to pass a bill before its December recess, which is scheduled to start on December 15th for the House of Representatives and on December 18th for the Senate. Pro-immigration reform organizations are demanding what they call a “clean DREAM Act” from Congress, meaning a bill that would provide a path to citizenship that would not be subject to lawmakers passing measures to strengthen border security or establish more enforcement measures.

Back in September, President Donald Trump gave Congress six months to do something about DACA recipients because his Administration will phase out and end the program by March 2018. If DACA expires and Congress doesn't pass a law to protect the program's recipients, the so-called “dreamers” would lose the permits that currently allow them to work, obtain driver’s licenses and enroll in college benefiting from in-state tuition subsidies.

Moreover, they would become eligible for deportation.

As of September 4th 2017, there were 689,800 DACA recipients –113,000 of them in Texas— according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

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As in previous Congressional sessions, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was re-introduced in the current session and there are four other bills that could also provide relief for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.


No conditions

United We Dream (UWD), the largest organization advocating for the dreamer community, is one of the main groups behind a national campaign pushing for a clean DREAM Act.

One of the elements of the campaign is a website with the theme “We are here to stay.”

“Our membership, as United We Dream, (…) have made it very clear that they do not wanna be used as a bargaining chip to where maybe they might get some path to citizenship,” says Julieta Garibay, co-founder and director of UWD's Texas chapter, “but then, either their parents or their loved ones, might be targeted for deportation, or there might be some type of border wall, or more agents that would, at the end of the day, continue to affect that community, or militarize the border.”



According to Garibay, one of the reasons why UWD wants Congress to pass a bill before the end of the year is the fact 2018 is a mid-term election year and her group fears some lawmakers, particularly Republicans, may have primary challengers that would make them take a more strict stance on immigration and, therefore, would impede them to support a law that would bring relief to DACA recipients.

“We know it would be harder to get it through. It would become even more politicized than what it already is, so that’s why we’re pushing for this year,” says Garibay.

Sarah Pierce, an associate policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), agrees with Garibay and notes that when the 2018 mid-term election gets closer it will become “much more politically dangerous for some in Congress to negotiate on this issue.”

Houston has been one of the cities the dreamer movement has chosen to organize events asking for Congress to act.


Several DACA recipients and supporters of the DREAM Act gathered at the University of Houston's main campus on November 9, 2017, to ask Congress to pass the law before the end of the year.
Photo courtesy of United We Dream (UWD)
Several DACA recipients and supporters of the DREAM Act gathered at the University of Houston’s main campus on November 9, 2017, to ask Congress to pass the law before the end of the year.


A walk out and a march took place on November 9th at the University of Houston's main campus and another event was held also at UH on December 5th. DACA recipients told their stories in public, explaining how they arrived in the U.S. and how DACA has changed their lives.




Garibay, who says organizations such as Texas State Teachers Association, and the Texas chapters of the American Federation of Teachers and of the Sierra Club, support a clean DREAM Act, also explains that UWD wants a law this year because the potential implementation of SB4 in Texas –which has the nation's second largest population of DACA recipients— in 2018 could be dangerous for DACA recipients whose permits will expire.

“We’re doing all we can to put that pressure. I think it’s doable. Congress tends to figure out what they wanna prioritize or not,” says Garibay, who thinks all the Democrats that are members of the Texas Congressional Delegation support a bill that would benefit DACA recipients.

Pierce details that, according to research conducted by the MPI, the loss of DACA benefits will peak in the first trimester of 2018. Specifically, 915 people would start losing their benefits every day starting the first week of March.


Targeting Texas lawmakers

Texas has an important role in this situation because activists are targeting U.S. Representatives John Culberson (Republican-7th Texas Congressional District), Will Hurd (Republican-23rd Texas Congressional District) and Pete Sessions (Republican-32nd Texas Congressional District) to get their support as soon as possible, as part of the campaign.

Out of those three, Hurd is the only who has so far publicly expressed his agreement with a solution for dreamers. In a statement released in early September this year, Hurd said that “Congress must provide a permanent, legislative solution for children brought here through no fault of their own” and added he looks forward to “working with my colleagues to make a permanent, legislative solution that allows people who have only known America as their home, to stay and continue contributing to our Nation’s culture, economy and history.”

Congressmen Culberson and Sessions did not answer to interview requests for this story, and Congressman Hurd was not able to meet our deadline.

UWD and the Emerson Collective, another group advocating for immigration reform, are two of the organizations asking for support from Culberson, Hurd and Sessions and their campaign includes YouTube videos asking the Congressmen by name to pass the DREAM Act “now.”

Additionally, 49 faith leaders from the Houston area have sent a letter to Culberson asking him to support the passage of a clean DREAM Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.

So far, the DACA recipients have received support from other Texan Republicans.

Joe Barton, a GOP Congressman that represents the 6th Texas District in the House of Representatives, expressed his support for a bill to benefit DACA recipients in early November arguing that “it's just common sense.”

“We'd like to do it by the end of this calendar year — but certainly within the six months window President Trump gave us when he rescinded the Executive Order,” Barton –who on November 30th announced he is not running for re-election— asserted during a press conference along with other Republican Congress members who support that kind of measure.

The Congressman repeated his comments at a forum organized by the American Business Immigration Coalition in Dallas, on November 21st.



Others, like Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who represents Florida's 27th Congressional District in the House, called for a vote on the DREAM Act in early November. Ros-Lehtinen, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, actually introduced the 2017 version of the DREAM Act, along with Democratic Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, from the 40th Congressional District of California.


A difficult goal

Nonetheless, some experts think that the goal of passing legislation this month is complicated.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, thinks that the timeline would be difficult to achieve because of the “hot” political rhetoric on immigration, which makes removing the partisan factor difficult, and also because “Congress is under several deadlines to pass major types of legislation,” such as year-end spending bill.

“They really got their plates full and adding one more thing could be very difficult,” says Rottinghaus.

Regardless of Congress' workload, Rottinghaus thinks the two men who represent Texas in the Senate, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, have different approaches to the issue.

“It would be difficult to get somebody like Ted Cruz,” supporting this kind of legislation, says Rottinghaus, because “he is in a tough election and he needs the more conservative wing of the Republican Party,” whereas Cornyn “has been vocal about wanting to get things done on immigration.”

According to Pierce, with the Migration Policy Institute, a law to provide relief to DACA recipients in fact could only be a part of the pending major legislation Rottinghaus refers to.

Pierce refers to the fact that the Dream Act may have become a crucial element in the tense negotiations between Democrats and Republicans to pass the budget bill, which could lead to a potential government shutdown if no agreement is reached before the weekend.

Some lawmakers would like to see a DREAM Act as a “provision” of the budget, says Pierce, because Democrats have a little more “leverage” when it comes to a spending bill, but also because “that’s a bill (the budget) that has to pass in December.” And “that would be one way to kind of accelerate the process for a DREAM Act.”

In theory, the deadline to pass a budget is December 8th, but, Congressional leaders could set a stopgap measure to provide money for two weeks while budget negotiations continue. In that case, the deadline would be December 22.

Lindsey Graham, a Republican Senator from South Carolina, has recently added his voice to those that would like to pass a bill before the end of the year, precisely as part of the year-end government funding bill.

“Let's do it in December, let's do it for the good of the country, let's take care of a lot of problems at one time to show the country we actually can function,” Graham said on CNN’s State of the Union.

Additionally, on December 5th, a group of 34 House Republicans asked Speaker Paul Ryan to act this month on legislation about DACA.

“We must pass legislation that protects DACA recipients from deportation and gives them the opportunity to apply for a more secured status in our country as soon as possible,” the 34 lawmakers expressed in a letter sent to Ryan, while adding that “reaching across the aisle to protect DACA recipients before the holidays is the right thing to do.”

So far, Ryan has said that he doesn’t see the need to act before March.

At the end of the day, Pierce acknowledges, it is very unlikely that Congress would pass a DREAM Act without conditions before the December recess.


Perception of amnesty

Activists from the other side of the spectrum are against a clean DREAM Act that they perceive as a potential amnesty.

Andrew Arthur, resident fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), agrees with that concept.

“The problem that we’ve seen with every amnesty that has come down the pike, including the ’86 amnesty (Immigration Reform and Control Act), is that it encourages additional individuals to enter the United States illegally because it sends out a statement that the United States is not serious about enforcing its immigration laws,” Arthur says. “And that, if you enter illegally and wait long enough, that eventually you can get status too.”

Therefore, he warns, “any bill that grants an amnesty without strong enforcement provisions is going to be viewed very negatively by the Republican base.”

In that sense, the CIS expert adds that “in order to mitigate the negative consequences of such legislation, there would have to be strong enforcement provisions as well,” such as the implementation of the program E-Verify, which would verify electronically the hiring of every person hired in the United States.

Arthur thinks other conditions for passing a bill that would protect DACA recipients should be funding to address the so-called “sanctuary cities.”

But if DACA recipients are eventually deported, the impact will be felt by the country and specifically by Texas, says Ray Perryman, president and CEO of the Waco-based Perryman Group –an economic research and analysis firm.

Based on official data that he has researched –along with information compiled by several think tanks— the dreamer community “is responsible for, when you include the multiplier effects, over 300,000 jobs here in Texas”, Perryman says.

“We don’t have another source of workers immediately available, it’s not like we can run out and replace these workers with other workers,” elaborates Perryman, who adds that “over time, people would find a way to adjust to it, but the initial effect would probably be almost a one for one loss in employment.”

Even in these adverse circumstances, Rottinghaus says, DACA recipients and the dreamer community as a whole have something going for them because “this is a personal issue to a lot of people and the campaign to advocate for it can show real people affected.”