Following President Donald Trump’s reversal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program earlier this month, Rhode Island congressmen issued statements condemning the policy change. U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., both sponsor a 2017 version of the DREAM Act, a bill they hope to bring to the House floor. The bill would be a permanent legislative solution to protect former DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,” from deportation. Similarly, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., both sponsor the Senate’s Protect Dreamer Confidentiality Act of 2017, a bill that withholds Dreamers’ private information to protect them from deportation.
Approximately 800,000 Dreamers are able to work and live in the United States legally under the policy, which was established in June 2012 by executive order by former president Barack Obama, after years of attempts at more expansive immigration reform stalled in Congress.
Trump formally ended DACA Sept. 5. But the fate of Dreamers remains uncertain, given a tentative “DACA deal” struck by congressional Democratic leaders and Trump. On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Md., announced that they and Trump had “agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly,” in exchange for tougher border patrol. But Trump refuted the statement Thursday morning via Twitter, the New York Times reported.
As senior Democratic party leadership continue their negotiations, Rhode Island congressmen stand firm in their mission to protect Dreamers from deportation and produce comprehensive immigration reform.
The Center for American Progress estimates that there are approximately 1,229 DACA recipients in Rhode Island who annually contribute over $61 million to the state’s GDP. For these Dreamers, the confusion and uncertainty in the White House is a cause for concern. But Rhode Island policy makers are clear about the Dreamers’ role in American society: “These young people are contributing enormously to our country and are Americans in every respect other than a piece of paper,” Cicilline said. “These are people we want to be part of our country.”
“President Trump’s priorities are backwards. He stands behind divisive figures like Joe Arpaio, but shows no compassion for bright, hardworking kids,” Reed wrote in a statement after Trump’s executive order, adding that ending DACA would send children to “countries they have never known.”
“We are absolutely unified in our demand that the Speaker of the House bring the DREAM Act to the floor. That’s the easiest way to fix this problem and provide a secure future for the Dreamers,” Cicilline said.
Congressional Democrats are exploring every legislative possibility to pass the act, Cicilline said. He told The Herald that in the next few weeks, the Democrats could issue a discharge petition, which would force the Speaker of the House to bring a bill to vote. Other options include finding a must-pass bill that the DREAM Act can attach to or simply encouraging more Republican senators to support the DREAM Act.
The best approach to reform is passing comprehensive legislation that “funds proven strategies for securing our borders, while giving hardworking immigrants a way to continue contributing to our economy and communities,” wrote Meaghan McCabe, press secretary for Whitehouse, in an email to The Herald. Whitehouse has advocated for immigration reform throughout his time in Congress and, in 2013, voted for a Senate-passed bipartisan immigration reform bill that would have significantly increased border security and made it possible for undocumented immigrants to gain legal status, McCabe wrote. The bill stalled in the House.
Similarly, Langevin wrote in a press release that he would do “everything in (his) power to protect DACA recipients from the Administration’s cruel actions and to find a permanent legislative solution to fix our broken immigration system compassionately and effectively.”
Reed, Whitehouse and Langevin all voted for the DREAM Act in 2010. Cicilline was not a member of Congress at that time.
A debt-limit deal Trump struck with Democrats earlier this month will give the party “a lot of leverage,” said Richard Arenberg, visiting professor of political science and international and public affairs. But that deal, which lifted the debt ceiling and provided government funding, only addresses the next three months, meaning the same issues will come up again in mid-December, he added. “Addressing a legislative approach to dealing with the extension of DACA and a path to legalization and citizenship will be on the table” in those mid-December negotiations, he said.
Were the DREAM Act brought to the floor immediately, the momentum gathering for immigration reform means “it would likely pass with all of the Democrats and enough Republican support,” Cicilline said. But the decision about whether or not to vote lies with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., which means that the process to protect Dreamers will likely be more tedious.