The latest domino in the DACA saga fell when Judge Andrew Hannen out of the Southern District of Texas ruled that the DACA program was unlawful, immediately halting the processing of an estimated 55,000 first time DACA applications currently in the pipeline.
While it’s clear from the language of Judge Hannen’s opinion that there is a legal path forward for DACA, and that the case will be challenged by the Biden Administration in the Supreme Court, what’s even more obvious is that it’s time for Congress to step in and resolve the matter once and for all.
DACA, or Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an Obama-era program created through executive order that offers work permits in two-year increments for undocumented persons, or Dreamers, who were brought to the United States at a young age.
DACA only came about as an executive order after mounting frustration from multiple failed attempts from bipartisan congressional groups to pass versions of the Dream Act, dating back to 2001.
The DACA program was by many measures a success — it is estimated that there are over 1.8 million persons eligible for the program and around 650,000 who actively hold DACA status. Along with the work permits came benefits such as social security cards, driver’s licenses, and state IDs, and in some cases, eligibility for in-state tuition.
The plight of immigrants hits home for me. I am the son of an Iranian immigrant who became a naturalized U.S. citizen. It’s one of the reasons I have spent most of my professional career as an attorney helping immigrants achieve the American dream. I currently chair the growing immigration department at Rose Law Group in Scottsdale.
It is important to understand that DACA is not an incentive for illegal immigration. There are strict cutoff dates, mandatory fees, and strict standards that ensure DACA is not granted to anyone who applies.
It is not blanket amnesty. The program requires renewal every two years, meaning a DACA recipient must continue to pay into the program and be law abiding or risk losing their status and becoming subject to deportation.
For these reasons and more, DACA polls favorably across partisan lines. Most people know someone with DACA status. They are teaching in our classrooms, working in our factories, delivering food and groceries, working construction jobs during this latest housing boom, and maybe most importantly, serving as doctors, nurses, technicians, lab assistants and hospital workers during last year’s devastating pandemic.
There are two bills currently in Congress (American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 and the Dream Act of 2021) that if approved, would create legal permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship for somewhere between 2 million-3 million eligible Dreamers.
There is an argument to pass this legislation through budget reconciliation, or after eliminating the filibuster, but doing so would put a partisan stain on an issue that, remarkably for a nation so divided at this moment in history, has overwhelming bipartisan support.
Rather than going it alone, Democrats and Republicans must find common ground and enshrine protection for Dreamers into legislation, rather than relying on executive order.
In doing so, Congress can show Americans that they can act as humanitarians rather than strategists, cast division aside, and do the right thing — our Dreamers are counting on it!
Editor’s Note: Darius Amiri is chair of the immigration department at Scottsdale-based Rose Law Group pc.