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The Debate Over Dreamers & DACA: A Timeline of Congressional Inaction

Sep 25, 2020 by AFP

For years now, Congress has been trying to tackle the issue of what to do about the “Dreamers.” These young immigrants were brought to the United States as children, either without legal authorization, or with legal authorization that eventually expired.

Because of the punitive provisions of U.S. immigration law, there’s no mechanism for them to get right with the law, suffer a penalty and then earn legal status. Instead, the law requires these young people — many of whom know no other home and may speak only English — to return to a country they do not remember, and where they might have no ties. Once there, few would have any possibility of ever receiving permission to immigrate to the United States.

In 2001, the first “Dreamer” bill was introduced into Congress. Since then, relief for the Dreamers has been endorsed by Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. The House and Senate have taken multiple votes on legislation to provide certainty to the Dreamers, their families, and their communities. Despite broad support for different bills to provide a way to earn legal status, leaders in Washington have failed to build a consensus behind one proposal that earns a majority in both.

For that reason, Dreamers continue to wait for resolution to the question of their status — nearly 20 years after the first bill was introduced, and more than eight years after President Obama acted unilaterally to temporarily protect some Dreamers from deportation.

In this video, Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips points out that Congress has failed to provide a permanent solution for Dreamers for nearly 20 years. What’s happened in that time?

September 30, 1996: President Bill Clinton signs into law the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. This broad legislation includes limits on the ability of undocumented immigrants to access higher education. This led to a move by advocates to revise treatment of young immigrants brought here outside the law.

August 1, 2001: Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduce the first version of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM Act). The bill offers conditional resident status — and potentially permanent resident status — to undocumented immigrants from ages 12-35, who were younger than 18 when they entered the U.S., and who meet certain other criteria. Hatch comments that it “would allow children who have been brought to the United States through no volition of their own the opportunity to fulfill their dreams, to secure a college degree and legal status.”

January 23, 2007: President George W. Bush calls for comprehensive immigration reform in his State of the Union address. This is not the first time Bush called for broad reform of immigration laws, but it serves as the kickoff of a serious effort to pass immigration reform in the last two years of his presidency. Action on the issue of the Dreamers is a part of the debate.

May 9, 2007: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) introduces S. 1348, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007. This legislation incorporates the DREAM Act among its provisions.

June 28, 2007: The Senate defeats comprehensive immigration reform legislation by a vote of 52-46. The measure needed 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

December 18, 2010: The U.S. Senate fails to pass H.R. 5281, the DREAM Act. The vote is 55-41 in favor, five votes short of the 60 required to overcome a filibuster. Three Republican Senators vote yes; five Democrats vote against. The legislation had been approved in the House 10 days earlier by a vote of 216-198, largely along party lines.

May 2012: Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) leads a group of senators working with Dreamer advocates on legislation to offer legal status, but not citizenship, to undocumented youth brought to the United States as children. Those efforts reportedly fuel White House interest in relief for Dreamers through regulation. In November of that year, the legislation would be introduced by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) as The ACHIEVE Act.

June 15, 2012: President Barack Obama announces the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

November 20, 2014: President Obama announces the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program. This executive order would defer deportation for about 4 million undocumented immigrants with citizen children and allow them to work legally. He also announces an expansion of DACA to extend eligibility to additional immigrants.

December 3, 2014: Texas and 16 other states file a lawsuit against the DAPA and DACA measures announced by President Obama the previous month.

February 16, 2015: U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen issues a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of DAPA and the expanded DACA. Judge Hanen reaffirms that injunction a few months afterward.

November 9, 2015: A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upholds the injunction issued by Judge Hanen against DAPA in United States vs. Texas.

June 23, 2016: The US. Supreme Court deadlocks on United States vs. Texas, effectively affirming the Fifth Circuit ruling that blocked the DAPA program.

November 28, 2016: President-elect Donald Trump offers his first extensive comments on DACA post-election, saying of the Dreamers “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud… They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

June 15, 2017: Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly formally rescinds the DAPA program.

September 5, 2017: The Trump administration rescinds DACA, while announcing that DACA recipients with permits that expire before March 5, 2018, may apply for a two-year renewal. The president states “I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress to finally act.”

September 8, 2017: The University of California files a legal challenge to the termination of DACA.

January 25, 2018: The White House outlines a proposed legislative package to offer certainty to Dreamers. It includes a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million Dreamers, in exchange for $25 billion to fund a border wall, dramatic cuts to legal immigration, and other measures.

February 15, 2018: The Senate votes on three competing proposals to provide relief to the Dreamers. None of the three bills reaches the 60-vote threshold required for passage. A bipartisan proposal that pairs Dreamer relief with full funding for a border wall receives the most votes, with 54 senators in support.

June 27, 2018: The House of Representative fails to advance legislation to provide status to Dreamers.

June 4, 2019: The House of Representatives approves H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, by a vote of 237-187. The measure provides a path to citizenship for Dreamers, as well as legal status to an estimated 400,000 recipients of Temporary Protected Status.

November 12, 2019: As the Supreme Court hears arguments regarding the administration’s move to cancel DACA, President Trump tweets that “If Supreme Court remedies with overturn [of DACA], a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!”

June 18, 2020: The U.S. Supreme Court rules on Department of Homeland Security et al vs. Regents of the University of California, the court challenge to the administration’s cancellation of DACA. While the Court upholds the authority of the executive to cancel DACA, it determines that the process utilized by the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

Watch this video to learn more about the key questions surrounding DACA and the role of Dreamers in the U.S.