Last Friday, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled legislation that would extend essential legal protections and work permits for DREAMers, a group of young undocumented immigrants brought here as children. The program which currently grants these benefits, DACA, has been under fire since Donald Trump's campaign pledge to repeal the executive actions enacted by President Obama.
Senators Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) are promoting the so-called "Bridge Act", a bill which would allow DREAMers who received deportation relief and work permits under DACA to keep those benefits for three more years if they are repealed by President-elect Trump. There are three other senators who are original co-sponsors of the bill: Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Jeff Flake (R-Arizona). Durbin and Graham are hoping to find additional sponsors.
“I can’t go anywhere where I’m not approached by someone who raises this issue, either personally or religious,” Durbin said during a pen-and-pad with a small group of reporters on Friday according to Politico. “We wanted to move on it quickly.”
Uncertainty Regarding the Bridge Act
It's uncertain whether the bill will become law with a GOP-controlled Senate and a much more conservative House. GOP leadership has said generally that they want to wait and see how the Trump administration handles the issue before making any decision on how to deal with DACA beneficiaries.
“In my view, the [executive action] issued by President Obama was unconstitutional and President-elect Trump would be right to repeal it," Graham said in a statement Friday. "However, I do not believe we should pull the rug out and push these young men and women — who came out of the shadows and registered with the federal government — back into the darkness.”
Trump has said he plans to repeal DACA, and has not backed off that pledge publicly. However, he has taken a softer tone toward Dreamers, praising them in a Time magazine interview and noting that “they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Details on the Bridges Act
The Bridges Act would apply to a broader group of DREAMers beyond the current DACA holders. Some good news is that, according to Durbin, negotiators agreed to expand the bill’s eligibility to other young undocumented immigrants who would qualify for DACA but do not currently have it. That would include, for example, a 14-year-old who does not become eligible for benefits until they turn 15. Like the original DACA program, they would all have to pay a fee, register with the government and pass background checks.
Some more good news is that the legislation also calls for tougher confidentiality protections than what is currently afforded under the existing DACA program. It would prohibit personal information (such as the immigrants’ home addresses) from being used for deportation purposes, unless it involved national security concerns or a criminal felony investigation. This provision is meant to ensure that parents of DACA holders wouldn’t get swept up in order to be deported.
Extension of the benefits under the Bridges Act would only be valid for three years under the bill. So in theory, if this measure became law in May 2017, it would disappear in May 2020 — forcing Congress to work out broader immigration reforms in the meanwhile.