Southern lawmakers will be key to passing the Dream Act
"What do we want?"
"The Dream Act!"
"When do we want it?"
This was the chant led by beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program at a rally in Durham, North Carolina, this week. It was held just hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration's plan to begin phasing out the program, which since 2012 had afforded them the opportunity to work and live without fear of deportation. Under DACA, over 800,000 undocumented youth across the nation and nearly 300,000 across the South received work permits and renewable two-year deferrals from deportation.
Since Sessions' announcement that current DACA permits will begin expiring in six months and no new permits will be issued, similar rallies have also been held across the country in states including Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia calling for passage of the Dream Act, which would offer undocumented youth the same protections as DACA and also offer them a path to citizenship.
First introduced in the Senate in 2001 by Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, the legislation has failed to pass each time it has been reintroduced, which is why President Obama implemented DACA with an executive order.
In July, Durbin along with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced the 2017 version of the Dream Act, which has garnered support from members of both political parties. No Southern senators have signed as cosponsors yet, but the number of cosponsors is growing following the DACA decision, with both Colorado senators signing on this week.
An identical bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in July by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat. It has a total of 137 cosponsors to date, with 21 of them representing Southern states. All but three of the cosponsors signed on this week after the Trump administration's DACA announcement.
In an effort to secure the Dream Act's passage, the Women's March has released a list of Republican lawmakers who could provide the key swing votes needed. The group is calling on concerned citizens to tweet and call their senators and representatives and urge them to support the legislation without any compromises.
Of the 28 lawmakers on the list, eight are from the South:
- Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia. While Comstock has criticized DACA because it was not passed by Congress, she has called for bipartisan legislation to address what she called the "broken immigration system." There are over 13,000 DACA recipients living in Virginia who contribute nearly $35 million in state and local taxes annually.
- Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. Though Corker voted against the Dream Act in 2010, three years later he was among the lawmakers who backed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, which would have created a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. It ultimately failed in the House of Representatives. There are over 9,000 DACA recipients living in Tennessee who contribute over $21 million in state and local taxes annually.
- Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida. Curbelo is the lead sponsor of the Recognizing America's Children (RAC) Act, which would grant high school graduates without a criminal record conditional immigration status for five years and allow those who earn a college degree, serve in the military, or maintain employment to apply for permanent residency and eventually citizenship. The RAC Act currently has 29 cosponsors, three of whom are from the South. With nearly 38,000 DACA recipients who contribute over $100 million in state and local taxes annually, Florida is the state with the fifth-highest number of DACA recipients.
- Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida. Diaz-Balart is one of the cosponsors of the RAC Act. A vocal supporter of DACA, he says he is "ready and willing to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle."
- Rep. Will Hurd of Texas. Hurd's district includes the longest stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border of anyone in Congress. In a statement on Trump's DACA decision, he called for a "permanent legislative solution that allows people who have only known America as their home to stay and continue contributing to our nation's culture, economy, and history." With 138,000 DACA recipients who contribute over $313 million in state and local taxes annually, Texas is the state with the second-highest number of DACA recipients after California.
- Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Like Corker, Rubio backed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. Though Rubio said he was not ready to sign onto the Dream Act when it was first introduced in July, he said in a radio interview this week that he would not rule out voting for the legislation. "We obviously need to see where the votes are," he said, "and we need to talk to the White House and get some guidance from them about whether that is a priority they want to see before something like this is passed."
- Rep. Scott Taylor of Virginia. Taylor is among the cosponsors of the RAC Act. In response to Trump's DACA decision, he called on Congress to "create, negotiate, and pass a law protecting those in this stateless limbo," adding that "[n]ow is our time in Congress to lead with justice, mercy, and compassion."
- Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Following this week's DACA announcement, Tillis said he plans to introduce a version of the RAC Act in the Senate. "My legislation will provide a fair and rigorous path for undocumented youth to earn legal status," Tillis stated. With 29,000 DACA recipients who contribute over $63 million in state and local taxes, North Carolina is the state with the seventh-highest number of DACA recipients.