How One Judge’s DACA Ruling Could Hurt DREAM Act’s Push for Amnesty
'Dreamer' advocates cheered the decision, but court decree may undercut legislative momentum and hurt Dems in close 2018 races
Immigration advocates cheered late Tuesday when a federal judge in San Francisco issued a ruling blocking President Donald Trump from killing a quasi-amnesty program, but the decree might actually hurt the “dreamer” movement’s long-term goals.
With a March deadline looming for expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and leading congressional Democrats still threatening to shut down the government, pressure had been building on Republicans to agree to legal status for illegal immigrants whose parents brought them to America as children.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s ruling ordering the Trump administration to allow current beneficiaries to apply for renewals could deflate that momentum, according to experts who favor stricter controls on immigration.
“I don’t think there’s any way that it couldn’t have that effect,” said Andrew Arthur, a senior fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies.
Arthur said the big leverage point that amnesty advocates had was the prospect that DACA recipients — there were some 690,000 when Trump announced in September he would wind down the program — were weeks away from losing their work authorization and facing possible deportation.
“Thanks to Judge Alsup, that’s not a problem,” he said.
Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, an advocacy group, said he heard California Attorney General Xavier Becerra argue that the judge’s ruling gave advocates more leverage. But Chmielenski said that without the threat of DACA recipients losing their current status, Democrats will be taking a big risk in voting against a funding bill to keep the government open.
“If they think that decision was that significant, there should be no more talk of holding up next week’s spending bill,” he said. “They are grasping at straws if they’re going to say that.”
It is unclear whether Alsup’s ruling will survive an expected appeal. The Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote last year overturned a previous decision by Alsup that ordered the Trump administration to produce documents related to its decision to end DACA.
Immigration advocates told LifeZette they will not rest until they win passage of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would grant permanent residency to a larger group of young adult immigrants than DACA covers.
“We can’t rely on injunctions. We can’t rely on a new president or anything like that,” said Bruna Bouhid, a spokesperson for United We Dream, based in Washington, D.C. “We’ve made it pretty clear that this is a crisis, and an injunction doesn’t change that.”
“I’m not going to let a member of Congress be comfortable when we are uncomfortable.”
Bouhid said she is not concerned the DREAM Act will lose momentum. “I’m not going to let a member of Congress be comfortable when we are uncomfortable,” she said.
Michelle Boykins, a spokeswoman for Asian Americans Advancing Justice — another group that supports the DREAM Act — downplayed the possibility that the judge’s ruling undermines the urgency for quick action by Congress.
“We’re not seeing or hearing that right now,” she said.
A key Republican involved in the DACA negotiations, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), reportedly said the judge’s ruling will not stop efforts to reach a legislative agreement.
“It doesn’t change the need for us to act,” Cornyn told Politico. “I don’t think it relieves the anxiety of the DACA recipients that something is going to happen.”
But Christopher Hajec, director of litigation at the Immigration Reform Law Institute — the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) — argued that the court ruling puts Trump in a stronger position to hold out for greater concessions from Democrats.
“This gives good cover to Trump not agreeing to any DACA deal, because they’re already protected,” he said. “It does remove the deadline pressure.”
A Morning Consult/Politico poll released Wednesday indicates that 54 percent of American voters favor granting citizenship to dreamers, and a plurality oppose tying the measure to funding for a wall.
The survey did not ask about other proposals, but a poll released last week by NumbersUSA found widespread support among likely voters for reducing legal immigration, ending the diversity visa lottery, curtailing “chain migration,” and making the E-Verify system mandatory for businesses.
Hajec said that even without the judge’s ruling, the odds of a DACA deal are low. He said Democrats are unlikely to agree to concessions that the White House has demanded, such as funding a wall along the southwest border, ending the visa lottery, and curbing the ability of new citizens to sponsor extended family members for immigration.
“It’s been rejected more than once,” said Hajec, referring to the DREAM Act — first introduced in 2001. “What Republicans have to realize is they have public support for Trump’s positions.”
(photo credit, homepage image: Protesters hold various signs and banners at a DACA rally in San Francisco, CC BY-SA 4.0, by Pax Ahimsa Gethen; photo credit, article image: DACA protest Columbus Circle, CC BY-SA 4.0, by Rhododendrites)