‘Dreamers’ left out in the cold by US Senate border bill

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - WASHINGTON, Feb 5 — A bipartisan border security bill headed to a US Senate vote this week is likely to dash hopes for a quick, clear path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of people brought into the US illegally as children, as Congress takes a harder line on immigration.

This group, known as “Dreamers,” had been a top priority for Democrats in immigration policy talks for more than a decade.

But as Republicans made new border restrictions a condition of aid for US allies Ukraine and Israel sought by Democratic President Joe Biden, the Dreamers question was left off the table.

Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said that at the onset of the just-concluded talks Republicans rejected his plea to include the Dreamers.

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“There are members on the other side that have the position of not one single immigrant under any circumstances,” Durbin said in an interview.

Some Republican lawmakers said it was unlikely Congress would take up the question of the Dreamers at any time in the foreseeable future.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, one of three senators who negotiated the bill, acknowledged the lack of progress in helping Dreamers.

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“We still have work to do, like providing a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and other undocumented people, but this bill is an important downpayment on immigration reform,” he said on Sunday.

There are no guarantees that the bipartisan bill will become law. It faces some opposition from both left and right in Congress and may not even be taken up by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, after former President Donald repeatedly criticized the idea.

Currently, there are 544,690 Dreamers receiving temporary protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama, a Democrat. While they also are granted work permits under Daca, their status in the United States has to be renewed every two years and the new Senate bill keeps them in limbo.

But there are thought to be as many as 2 million Dreamers in the United States when counting those who currently are not covered by Daca. New sign-ups under the program have been placed on hold by court challenges to the program.

“To say that it’s disappointing and frustrating I think is an understatement,” said Diana Pliego, whose parents brought her to the US at the age of three in 1997. “I’ve been waiting 26 years for Congress to pass a meaningful pathway.”

Now 29, Pliego recounted a lifetime of deportation fears and childhood poverty because of her family’s illegal immigration status.

She qualified for protection from deportation under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or Daca, program, went on to earn a college degree and now lives in a Washington suburb and works for the National Immigration Law Center. But her childhood fears of deportation linger.

“I’m always aware of a police presence,” Pliego said. “Even to this day when I am driving, I see (police) lights, I kind of panic a little bit.”

‘Off the table’

Republican Senator Thom Tillis, who was part of past immigration reform attempts, said he is sympathetic to the Dreamers plight. But the notion of helping them or other undocumented immigrants who have long lived in the US has become “toxic” because of the mass migration at the southern border, he added.

“I think that’s off the table for years now,” Tillis said in an interview.

US law enforcement has arrested around 2 million immigrants in fiscal year 2023 amid a wave of global migration due to wars, natural disasters and persecution.

Immigration ranks as the second-greatest worry for Americans, according a Reuters/Ipsos poll published last week. Some 17% of respondents said it was their top concern, a sharp increase from December.

Many Republicans argue that any program granting new rights to people who immigrate illegally, including children who had no say in their arrivals, would simply encourage more chaos at the border.

Meanwhile, the legality of the Daca’s implementation is being challenged and the US Supreme Court could ultimately decide its fate.

“Of all the undocumented, these are the most sympathetic and the most likely to be helped,” Durbin said.

Marielena Hincapie, distinguished immigration scholar at Cornell University Law School, held out hope for future action by Congress on behalf of Dreamers, especially if Daca appeared to be at risk. Such a “crisis,” she said, could create “a legislative window” for Dreamer legislation.

“For many years, there was always this quid pro quo: If you talk about increased enforcement and detention, you also have to talk about legalization” for certain groups of immigrants, she said.

Edwin Torres DeSantiago, a 30-year-old Daca recipient in Minneapolis, said it is infuriating but not surprising to see senators negotiate a border deal without Dreamers.

“We’re not talking about 10,000 people,” he said, speaking of the Daca population. “We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people who are teachers, who are nurses, who are doctors, who are professionals.”

Torres came to the US from El Salvador on a tourist visa at age eight to join his parents, who also lack permanent status. Today, he is vice president of a public relations firm.

He worries that the Supreme Court could undo Daca or that Trump, if re-elected, could further clamp down on immigrants. His family’s “Armageddon” plan is to move to California because of its strong immigrant protections. — Reuters

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