Durbin, Graham unveil immigration legislation at an urgent time for dreamers

Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) during a Senate Judiciary Committee business meeting at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Thursday to nominate federal judges. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Ricky Carioti

WASHINGTON – With the future of a program that protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation in limbo, senators on Friday introduced legislation to give them a path to legal residency.

It marks the formal start of the push in this Congress to enact protections for those known as dreamers, people who were brought to the United States as children. The legislation, introduced by Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), has been proposed year after year without success.

The Dream Act, as the bill is known, would allow people who were brought to the United States as children and have a high school education and college enrollment, employment or military service to earn residency and, eventually, citizenship.

The effort is urgent for hundreds of thousands of young adults whose future is in question as a challenge to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that now protects them moves through the courts. The program is also known as DACA.

But any immigration legislation faces a steep climb in a split Congress. It has been more than two decades since Durbin first introduced the act; in the last session of Congress, a version was passed in the House in 2021 but was unsuccessful in the Senate.

Many dreamers are protected by DACA, which allows them to work legally and protects them from deportation. But the future of DACA, which has long been challenged by Republicans who say President Barack Obama overstepped his authority in creating the program, is uncertain: A court case initiated in Texas challenging the program could result in an end to DACA.

“Dreamers are teachers, nurses, and small business owners in our communities, but because DACA hangs by a thread in the courts, they live each day in fear of deportation,” Durbin said in a statement Friday. “It is clear that only Congress can give them the stability they deserve and a path to lawful permanent residence.”

The Biden administration has pledged to defend DACA, and the president has urged Congress to pass immigration reform. The Dream Act would help those young people who fall under its parameters, but it would not provide a pathway to citizenship for other immigrants without legal status.

Republicans in Congress have in the past tied support for any dreamer legislation to tightening enforcement at the U.S. border. Introducing the legislation Friday, Graham told his Democratic counterparts that lawmakers must “repair a broken border” before relief for dreamers “is remotely possible.”

“The Dreamers represent a class of illegal immigrants that have much public support because they were minors brought here by their parents and America has become their home,” Graham said in a statement. “To provide relief to this population, we must first convince Americans that the unending wave of illegal immigration will stop.”

Immigration advocates have long called on Congress to enact a permanent solution and broader immigration reform.

“Although we welcome steps from Congress to introduce proactive immigration policies that help people, we need to turn these policies into reality,” said Juliana Macedo do Nascimento, deputy director of federal advocacy for the youth-led advocacy network United We Dream. “With the possible end of DACA in the courts, it’s up to President Biden and Congress to pass a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented while ensuring they are protecting the rights of people seeking asylum.”



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