DREAM Act, DACA, TPS, immigration reform
Social Justice

Where’s the DREAM? Here’s What’s at Stake with Congress’ Debate Over DACA and TPS

Four months have passed since President Donald Trump announced his decision to revoke DACA protection for over 800,000 DREAMers. Since then, the White House has also announced the revocation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for thousands of refugees. As of today, Congress has yet to act on either issue.

But with another critical budget deadline coming up this month, immigrant rights activists are demanding Congress finally pass legislation to protect these vulnerable communities that the White House has placed at heightened risk of deportation. Here’s how Congress action (or inaction) could make a difference for thousands of Nevada immigrant families.

What’s TPS, and why does it matter?

Like DACA, TPS is a temporary immigration status. But in the case of TPS, Congress created the program that authorizes the federal government to approve work permits and stay of deportation to refugees escaping war, natural disaster, or other extraordinary conditions. Since 1990, Republican and Democratic Presidents have extended TPS to refugees who have come here from ten countries, mostly in Latin America.

Not only is this a foreign policy issue, but it’s also a matter of local economics. Approximately 6,300 Nevadans have work permits because of TPS. If the Trump Administration decides to revoke TPS for refugees from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, Nevada employers will have a harder time keeping these workers due to their loss of legal status.

Why are TPS refugees in this dilemma?

Last year, then Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke announced that TPS will end January 2019 for Nicaraguan refugees and July 2019 for Haitian refugees, but she apparently allowed a six month extension for Honduran refugees against Trump’s wishes. With TPS for Salvadoran refugees set to expire this year, recently confirmed Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen is expected to announce a decision on their future status as soon as this Friday.

Amidst the heightened suspense, a few members of Congress decided not to wait on the White House any longer. Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-New York), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), and Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) introduced the ASPIRE Act to provide permanent residency to refugees covered by TPS before January 1, 2017, who prove to a judge that they face extreme hardship in their countries of origin. This came after Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida) introduced a narrower bill that only provides permanent residency to Haitian, Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Salvadoran TPS recipients who arrived in the U.S. before January 2011.

So far, Republican leaders have declined to move either TPS bill. If that sounds eerily familiar, that’s probably due to Republican leaders’ similar refusal to advance the DREAM Act to provide deportation relief and a path to citizenship for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

The window of opportunity reopens in Congress

In recent weeks, immigrant rights activists renewed their call for Congress to pass the DREAM Act and extend TPS. Even though Congress decided to further postpone action on these bills last month, activists see a new opportunity to press for action with the federal government’s impending January 19 budget deadline.

Congressional leaders have recently resumed their own bipartisan talks on DACA. Still, it remains to be seen whether these talks will actually result in action on the DREAM Act or TPS. A key test will come next week, when the Trump Administration announces its decision on TPS for Salvadoran refugees as Congress nears its latest budget deadline.

But will Trump slam that window shut?

Despite these occasional signs of progress in Congress, immigrant rights activists still face major headwinds from the White House.

Last September, Trump appeared to entertain a potential bipartisan framework to extend DACA protection for DREAMers in exchange for additional border security funding. Within a month, he blew up his own negotiations with Democratic leaders by explicitly demanding border wall funding and new immigration restrictions that Democrats had already made clear they would reject. Just last week, Trump doubled down on his draconian anti-immigrant wish list in a series of tweets that seemed to be more about shoring up his political base than discussing immigration policy.

Though some Republicans seem to be ignoring Trump’s demands, others are taking heed. While Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) has signed the discharge petition to force a House floor vote on the DREAM Act, Senator Dean Heller (R) has yet to take a position on the DREAM Act and TPS. Heller has, however, been moving closer to Trump, including on immigration reform. With Heller’s vote potentially being decisive on immigration and budget bills, pay close attention to what he and Trump say in the coming days.

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