DACA Recipients Converge on Capitol Seeking Compromise
WASHINGTON — Dozens of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipients descended on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to press lawmakers for legislative safeguards before the 117th Congress wraps up.
Recipients of the program, commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” converged in Washington to make the case for legal protection as the dust still settles on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ Oct. 5 ruling that set the stage for its abolition. In that case, the court concurred with a district court’s previous ruling that forbade United States Citizenship and Immigration Services from processing new DACA requests while still allowing renewal requests for existing recipients.
The case is now destined to return to the Southern District Court of Texas to determine the legality of the Biden administration’s September 2021 rulemaking notice meant to preserve the program in the absence of codified protections.
Perhaps surprisingly, the program is viewed as widely popular among Americans from both major political parties even as immigration in general generates some of the most sharply divided views overall.
A May 2020 analysis published by the public opinion research firm Moore Information Group found that 55% of surveyed Republican respondents supported the program and 90% of surveyed Democrats felt the same way.
Pew Research polling data published in June 2020 came to a similar conclusion, with 74% of Americans saying they support the creation of a law that would provide permanent legal status to immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, with just 24% of respondents saying they outright opposed such an idea.
Despite this strong popularity across the country’s ideological spectrum, the future of DACA presently remains in a state of limbo even as recipients like Javier Quiroz stand before lawmakers as living examples of its virtues.
Quiroz, now a registered nurse for Houston Methodist Hospital, told The Well News that he still remembers what it was like to live undocumented in the United States before DACA existed. His parents emigrated from central Mexico to Nashville, Tennessee, when he was about 3 years old because they saw “no opportunity there” for a better future, he said.
“At that time, you were undocumented as soon as you turned 18,” Quiroz, 31, said of his recollection of a pre-DACA nation. “You were an illegal alien and no better than a person that had just hopped the border the day before.
“Even though you grew up here, [the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001] protected you through the whole public school system and that investment was already made — it didn’t matter, you were undocumented, and you had no options to do anything.”
Despite the harsh reality he faced as an undocumented high school graduate, Quiroz still managed to capitalize on his good grades and get accepted to Lipscomb University in Nashville. He chose to pursue a degree in the medical field and eventually graduated in May 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Sometimes Quiroz’s immigration status made it hard to conduct the clinical training he had to undergo to obtain his degree, he said, but his affinity for caring for patients kept him motivated. Once, immigration in general became a topic of conversation while Quiroz treated a patient watching cable news.
“This gentleman’s watching ‘Fox and Friends’ and they’re covering border stuff, and, all of a sudden, his blood pressure goes up,” Quiroz said, recollecting the exchange, “and he’s saying all these ignorant things, like, ‘Look at all of these freeloaders … they don’t pay taxes, they’re murderers or rapists, and they’re just pouring into our country because of this administration,’ or whatever.”
At first, Quiroz said he remained silent and listened politely to the man in his care. The conversation worked its way on to the topic of Quiroz’s own background and where he was born.
“Because my name is Javier, that’s the only thing that sticks out like a sore thumb … he asked me, ‘Where are you from? Where are your parents from? Surely, you were born here in Texas?’” Quiroz told The Well News.
“Oh, actually, I was not born here. I was born in Mexico, and then I give him the cherry on top — I’m actually an undocumented nurse.”
There was also a time when Quiroz was ashamed of his background and would conceal the facts of his origin whenever he could. Since the implementation of DACA, however, he said that has changed.
Quiroz said some misconceptions about DACA recipients he hears pertain to handouts. He wants people across the political spectrum to understand that he and other Dreamers aren’t asking to cash in on social welfare policies like Social Security, college financial aid or food stamps and that, conversely, if money is the issue, he would happily pay for his right to stay in the country.
“Name a price, I’ll pay it,” Quiroz said. “Give me a relatively quick process to become a citizen. Background check me all you want. Give us something fair, quick and humane with no strings attached.”
What that process could feasibly look like is complicated as Congress grapples with narrow margins. While the Court of Appeals’ decision is still fresh in the minds of DACA recipients, so too are the midterms, where Republicans made limited gains in the House and failed to regain a Senate majority.
If any protections for DACA and its recipients are to pass both chambers and arrive on the president’s desk for signing, Todd Schulte, president of the pro-immigration lobbying group FWD.us, said it will require steep compromises for both sides. No bill can pass at all without bipartisan support, so it remains unclear what the provisions of a DACA-preserving bill would entail.
“I think a lot of the hardline immigration policies and politicians were defeated last week, and this renewed energy and momentum renewed around getting something done in lame duck [session],” Schulte told The Well News.
“Either you can maintain an inherently failed status quo, which will be awful, or you can do what the American public wants us to do here,” Schulte said. “So that’s what we’re advocating for.”
In fact, the lame-duck push might be the best opportunity for significant reforms to be brought up at all. Broader immigration policy reform might be a polarizing issue in some places, but he said data indicates that DACA protections are not polarizing to voters and could register as a politically safe maneuver for lawmakers fresh off the campaign trail.
Even though the political discourse inevitably steers its way to deciding what policies do and do not reward illegal immigration, Schulte said DACA recipients are actively in the middle of it all and making their contributions to society all the while. The average DACA recipient has been in the country for 23 years, and they came here at the average age of 6.
The Center for American Progress estimated last year that DACA recipients annually contribute $6.2 billion in federal taxes and pay $3.3 billion more in state and local taxes. As of June 2022, over 610,000 individuals make up the current DACA population, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Thirty-seven percent of recipients are married and 32% have children according to USCIS data, meaning entire families could be upended should the program be terminated. Regardless of what Congress ultimately decides to do, Schulte said Dreamers’ message to lawmakers on Wednesday is clear — they must do something.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, directed questions about lame-duck action to comments he made in Bloomberg last month in which he said it wasn’t possible to deal with issues “where there is bipartisan consensus” until the situation at the southern border is “under control.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who co-authored the legislation that coined the term “Dreamer,” pointed The Well News to the statement he released last month in response to the Fifth Circuit’s DACA ruling. In the statement, Durbin reiterated his calls to enact the DREAM Act, the never-passed legislative proposal to grant conditional residency to undocumented immigrants who came to the country as minors.
Durbin first introduced the measure alongside then-Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in August 2001 and has repeatedly reintroduced the bill since its unveiling, most recently alongside Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Durbin’s release notes that Senate Republicans have repeatedly filibustered the act over the years and have made demands to limit it to only currently enrolled DACA recipients.
“It is going to hurt America to continue to try to dismantle this program,” Quiroz told The Well News. “Instead of putting energy into dismantling it, [Congress] should put energy into making some new legislation that does not use us as pawns and will take care of us in the long run.”