Alan Gomez, USA Today, January 18, 2018
The political debate over the fate of “DREAMers” — undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — has overlooked just how many there are in the country today: about 3.6 million.
That number of people whose lives risk being uprooted is not widely known, in large part because so much public attention has been focused recently on 800,000 mostly young DREAMers accepted into the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
This smaller group of DREAMers is in the spotlight because President Trump terminated DACA in September, saying it was an illegal overreach of executive authority that can only come from Congress, which is negotiating with Trump on a compromise immigration plan.
While many politicians use DREAMer and DACA interchangeably, the terms are “not a distinction without a difference,” said House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
DREAMers got their name from the DREAM Act, a bill that has been proposed in Congress since 2001, but never passed, that would protect that group of immigrants.
The 3.6 million estimate of undocumented immigrants brought to U.S. before their 18th birthday comes from the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit think tank that studies global immigration patterns. That is roughly a third of all undocumented immigrants in the country and does not include millions of their immediate family members who are U.S. citizens.
On the other side is Mark Krikorian, executive director for the Center for Immigration Status, which favors lower levels of immigration. He argues for only extending protections for the 800,000 in DACA. “It’s not like they’re entitled to anything, but prudence suggests an extraordinary act of mercy,” he said. “Amnesty is warranted for them alone, at least this time.”
In exchange for DREAMer protections, Republicans want enhanced border security, the end of a diversity visa program for people from under-represented countries, including several from Africa, and a reduction in relatives that U.S. citizens can sponsor for visas.
To qualify for DACA, created in 2012, DREAMers had to undergo a thorough background check, prove they arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday, were 30 or younger, were attending school or in the military, and had not committed a felony or serious misdemeanor. The program provided work permits and two-year reprieves from deportation that could be renewed.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has said it will not deport former DACA recipients if their protections expire. But under Trump’s orders, it will arrest any undocumented immigrant agents come across. The percentage of undocumented immigrants without criminal records arrested by ICE has increased dramatically since Trump took office.
If Congress does not strike a deal by March 5, DACA enrollees will begin losing their deportation protections and work permits.