Since fall 2017, the fate of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children (often referred to as “Dreamers”) has been in doubt. Now, with the Jan. 19 government funding deadline looming, members of Congress are wrangling over the fate of the Dreamer program.
Some lawmakers insist that they won’t sign off on a funding bill without action to protect the status of these young immigrants.
Many of these young people are beneficiaries of a program called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). President Donald Trump’s decision to end the DACA program back in September 2017 has caused debate over how to protect those who have grown up here and are undocumented through no fault of their own.
President Trump has insisted that Congress come up with a solution, but so far, members of Congress have had difficulty coming to a compromise.
What’s at stake for DACA students?
Those taking advantage of the Dreamer program have to apply to renew their status regularly in order to remain in the U.S. to work or go to school. Following the DACA decision announced late last year, the government stopped accepting renewals as well as new applications.
However, on Jan. 13, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it will start processing DACA renewals again in accordance with a federal court order. Without receiving protected status, DACA recipients could face deportation starting March 5, 2018.
DACA students attending school would also be forced to leave during their studies. Recipients who have jobs and homes might be forced to leave as well, being sent to sometimes unfamiliar countries without job prospects.
On top of the more tangible realities of being sent out of the country, there are concerns that the end to the Dreamer program could cause psychological stress and other problems for DACA recipients.
The DACA program offered relief to undocumented immigrants brought as children, said Caitlin Patler, an assistant professor of sociology at UC Davis, in a report from Public Radio International (PRI). The Dreamer program provided an authorization to work and attend school, and took some of the pressure off young people.
Now, reports PRI, there is an expectation that many immigrants will live in fear of deportation. Additionally, it will be harder for them to find work and attend school, causing further financial and emotional stress.
What’s being done about DACA?
Right now, there seems to be little movement toward codifying DACA into law. Democrats have been pushing for a “clean” bill that protects immigrants, with an offer to talk about “border security” in exchange. That could later include building a wall along the border of Mexico.
However, even with Democrats pushing for legislation that only addresses DACA, different bipartisan proposals have been floated. One recent framework, according to Vox, includes the following items:
- Legal status and green cards to immigrants and those who would have qualified for the Dreamer program.
- Legal status and green cards to those who are facing loss of Temporary Protected Status (such as Salvadorans who are about to lose their status).
- Limits to the practice of bringing family members into the country. Only parents of DACA recipients would be legalized.
- Gets rid of some aspects of the diversity visa lottery program.
- Funding to start building a wall along the southern border of the U.S.
So far, this proposal has been rejected by the president. And this is where things get sticky.
According to CNBC, Republicans are accusing Democrats of stonewalling against a measure to avoid a government shutdown by insisting that a DACA deal must be done first. Republicans are proposing a measure to extend government operations until Feb. 16, as well as renew funding for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“For people to hold up money for our military for these unrelated issues — and for deadlines that don’t even exist this Friday — that makes no sense,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said during a press conference.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also insisted that a DACA decision need not be made this week. “There’s no cause whatsoever for manufacturing a crisis and holding up funding for the vital services of the federal government,” he said.
Some Democrats are talking tough, according to Politico. “Time’s up,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. “We want to keep the government open. But I will repeat, we’re not going to be held hostage to do things that we think are contrary to the best interests of the American people.”
Politico reports that, in all likelihood, congressional Democrats who feel threatened in the upcoming midterms will vote to avoid a government shutdown and push on DACA after clearing that hurdle.
Meanwhile, a handful of Republicans and Democrats from both the House and the Senate continue to negotiate, trying to find a bipartisan DACA solution that most members of Congress can get behind.
What can DACA students do right now?
For now, Dreamer program recipients can apply to renew their status if it lapsed following the September 2017 announcement, or if they are approaching another renewal deadline.
It’s important to note that these immigrants can’t receive federal student aid, including federal student loans. However, some individual colleges and states offer loans and scholarships for DACA students.
So, if you are in the Dreamer program, it still makes sense to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your FAFSA information will be sent to your schools of choice, where you might be able to qualify for non-federal student aid.
California is one state that offers scholarships and other financial aid to immigrants. Additionally, in September 2017, the state pledged $30 million to help DACA students with legal services and other financial aid.
It’s also possible to apply for private student loans, although there are a lot of hoops to jump through. Your DACA status can be used as proof that you are in the country legally. However, you also need good credit and proof of income in order to qualify for a loan without a cosigner.
If you’re interested in helping push a DACA decision forward, whether you are a Dreamer or a concerned U.S. citizen, contact your members of Congress. You can find out who represents your district at GovTrack.
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