Some so-called dreamers who would get a chance to become U.S. citizens under legislation scheduled for a vote Wednesday are rejecting the offer, in part, because it leaves out their parents.
Conservatives are leery of the plan backed by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) because it includes amnesty without all of the border security provisions and legal immigration reforms that were part of a bill that went down to defeat last week in the House of Representatives.
But Ryan’s plan is also getting little love from the people it is meant to protect — the young illegal immigrants brought to America as children, known as dreamers for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
Sheridan Aguirre, a spokesman for the advocacy group United We Dream, said a partial amnesty that leaves other illegal immigrants subject to deportation is unfair.
“Adults, including, for instance, my parents, are some of those folks who could be most vulnerable to that,” he said.
House GOP leaders tried to devise a plan that could pass after renegade Republicans came close to forcing votes on more liberal bills through a little-used process known as a discharge petition. When it became clear that gambit would succeed — and wrest control of the debate away from the leadership — Ryan agreed to hold votes on two different proposals.
The first was a bill crafted by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), which would have given legal residency — but no automatic right to citizenship — to the roughly 700,000 people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
That program, created by former President Barack Obama in 2012 by executive action, offered renewable work permits and protection from deportation to illegal immigrants who were younger than 31 on June 15, 2012, and came to the United States before their 16th birthday.
The Ryan-backed bill offers a path to citizenship and potentially includes a larger number of people, although estimates vary widely. The libertarian Cato Institute projects only 420,000. The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) projects beneficiaries could total 2.2 million after counting DACA enrollees, people eligible for DACA who did not sign up, and the adult children of guest workers.
Immigration advocates are not impressed.
“What’s important to us is we protect as many people as possible from deportation … All immigrants are deserving,” said Rich Morales, campaign director for PICO National Network’s immigrant justice initiative, LA RED.
Morales said his organization would fight any bill that added more immigration enforcement resources. Allowing dreamers to stay but not their parents cruelly breaks up families, he said.
“We believe all families are deserving,” he said.
To activists favoring tighter immigration enforcement, the position of mass immigration advocates exposes the hollowness of the argument that dreamers are a special case because they came to America through no fault of their own. They argue that demanding amnesty for the parents — who made the decision to violate immigration law — undercuts that argument.
“Immigration anarchists want a full-blown amnesty,” said Ric Oberlink, executive director of Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS). “They want it to cover anyone who’s here illegally.”
“Even if you think the kids should get amnesty, certainly, it would be indefensible for the parents to stay also.”
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), agreed.
“It just points out that ‘people who came here as children’ is just a convenient starting point,” he said.
Mehlman said FAIR opposes the Ryan-backed bill because it does not contain measures such as mandatory E-Verify that would make illegal immigration harder.
“Even if you think the kids should get amnesty, certainly, it would be indefensible for the parents to stay also,” he said.
If the House bill were to pass, it would not allow beneficiaries to sponsor their parents for residency unless the parents went back home. Under existing law, illegal immigrants who have been in the United States longer than a year must return home for at least 10 years before they legally can re-enter.
But Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), said she suspects many of those parents would be able to avoid that through fraud by pretending that they have been in their home countries the whole time.
She said if they have not been arrested or have some other contact with the government that would demonstrate that they have been in United States, they might get away with it.
That is especially true if a future administration with a more lax approach to immigration decides not to try hard to ferret out fraud, Vaughan added.
Mehlman said he believes that would be a hard case to make.
“They [the dreamers] didn’t just wind up here the way Dorothy and Toto ended up in Oz,” he said.
Advocates on the other side are not in a compromising mood, either. Morales said he has heard the argument that immigration advocates ought to take amnesty for DACA recipients as a first step and work toward broader reforms later.
“We reject that,” he said.
Late Tuesday, a federal judge in San Diego barred federal officials from separating children and parents when they cross the border illegally. It’s not clear how the judge’s order differs from Trump’s executive order directing reunification of separated families.