Congress can’t leave Dreamers in the lurch as DACA ends

Paola with her sonPaola with her son. Read her #HumansofDACA post here.

Make no mistake: Young people are losing their work permits and legal protections every day now. Only Congress can avert this disaster. 

Paola, a student at MassBay Community College, had hoped to start nursing school this spring, but she was a nervous wreck, so she had to postpone her entrance exam.

She’d put herself out there – at rallies in Boston and in Washington, in her local paper, on the TV news – hoping to build support for Dreamers. She’d taken abuse online. But even with just weeks left until the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Congress had yet to step up.

So she went back to work, enrolled in two classes, and – taking advantage of a federal court injunction that reopened DACA renewals – she applied for two more years of protection. She also put her 4-year-old son on a plane to Bolivia, to meet her mother and sisters, whom she hasn’t seen in almost 15 years. As a DACA recipient, she’s not allowed to leave the country, but he’s a U.S. citizen.

“I cried when I dropped him off at the airport,” she said. “He asked, ‘Mommy why can’t you come with me? I want you to come with me.’ I thought, ‘How do I explain this to this little guy?’”

How do you explain that in this proud nation of immigrants, 800,000 lives have been thrown into limbo, and despite overwhelming public support for a solution, Congress is paralyzed?

It’s shocking. Already, more than 20,000 DACA recipients have lost their protection because they missed a narrow one-month window to renew. Since March 5, the arbitrary end date set by the Trump administration, DACA permits have been expiring at a rate of almost 1,000 per day.

Some Dreamers, like Paola, will seize the court-created opportunity to renew, but many will not. A new analysis of federal data by the Center for American Progress shows that less than 10% of DACA recipients whose protection expired between Sept. 5 and March 5 have renewals pending, and just about 28% of those whose permits expire between March and May have applied.

Many Dreamers still don’t know they can renew, and many who do are too afraid, or too disheartened.

If you knew the President wanted to take away your legal status, force you out of your job, and put you on a path to deportation, would you renew your DACA – especially if it already expired? As advocates, we encourage all Dreamers to try to renew, but we understand their misgivings.

We also recognize the limits of litigation. When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to expedite the Trump administration’s appeals last month, it bought Dreamers precious time, up to a year. But the lawsuits don’t claim the President can’t legally end DACA, just that his actions were arbitrary and capricious.

In other words, at some point, DACA will end, and Paola and the other 8,000 Massachusetts residents who’ve benefited from it will be forced underground, or out of the country.

Only Congress can prevent this disaster, but so far, they’ve failed miserably.

In the House, majority leaders are pushing a bill by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) to give Dreamers temporary residency in exchange for draconian cuts to legal immigration and a huge boost to the deportation machine. There’s a bipartisan alternative, the USA Act, sponsored by Reps. Will Hurd (R-TX) and Pete Aguilar (D-CA), but it can only advance if Speaker Paul Ryan agrees.

In the Senate, after the failure of two bipartisan compromises last month, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has proposed a three-year extension of DACA in exchange for $7.6 billion in border security funds. This week, President Trump suggested he might support such a deal, but then he seemed to back off.

A must-pass budget bill due by March 23 offers a new chance for Congress to act. We need to step up the pressure – and make it clear that Americans won’t tolerate any more political games.

Since last September, right-wing politicians, led by the White House, have kept raising the price for Dreamers’ freedom. First it was a path to citizenship in exchange for border security funds. Then they added President Trump’s border wall, an end to family-based migration and diversity visas – and now they’re pushing for the Goodlatte bill.

It’s no wonder that Dreamers are emotionally spent. Not only have their hopes been dashed time and again, but their lives are in limbo. What would you do if you just had six months left on your DACA? Would you go to school, or drop out, work and save up as much as possible? What if you needed a car, or an apartment? Who would want to hire you if you applied for a job?

Still, they persist. As Estefany, a student at UMass Boston, told us: “I have worked hard for almost 11 years to get where I am today. I am pursuing a career, and I am not going to give up my dream… I will keep on fighting.”

So will we.

ACT NOW: Tell Congress to stop dallying on DACA ►