Congress must allow time to implement a solution for Dreamers

If and when Congress agrees on a solution for Dreamers, it will not be like flipping a switch. 

That’s why legislators should be thinking in terms of an end-of-2017 deadline — not March 5 of next year, the final sunset of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

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A significant number of young people are already at risk (including some because of a post office error), and that number will begin to increase sharply next year. Roughly 1,000 additional young people, or Dreamers, will lose the ability to work legally and will be at risk for deportation every day.

Reflecting the will of voters across the political spectrum, many in Congress — Republicans as well as Democrats — want to find a solution that allows DACA recipients and other Dreamers to earn legal status and eventual citizenship.

But even if they find a solution by the end of the year, we estimate that it will take a minimum of seven months to implement. The later the implementation clock starts, the more confusion will reign as DACA expires for current recipients. 

Why seven months? After Congress does the hard work of passing legislation — and the president signs it — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will need two to four months to develop regulations and otherwise prepare for implementation.

Then, they will need even more time to receive and process applications. The application process for such a program will include tight security measures, including background checks and biometric screening, all of which will take time for an agency that already has a growing backlog of naturalization applications

We anticipate that processing alone will take a minimum of five or six months. Hence a seven-month timeline — a low-end estimation.

If Congress passes a bill by the end of the year, USCIS will have a two-month running start before March. But if Congress waits until the last minute, a flood of DACA recipients will be in limbo — a thousand people a day for seven months is 210,000 people who will be vying for status. How will Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) handle these applicants? Some current cases do not inspire confidence.

Whether Congress focuses on a measure tied to a must-pass, end-of-year spending bill or considers Dreamer legislation separately, the urgency is clear. Certainty for DACA recipients is not all that is at stake; without a solution from Congress, the end of DACA will cost $6.3 billion in employee turnover costs, the Cato Institute has estimated. Every week, terminating thousands of employees would cost American businesses tens of millions of dollars.

That’s to say nothing of the effect on communities when young people who have been able to participate more fully in American life are forced to retreat into the shadows.

Members of Congress have proposed a variety of solid solutions for Dreamers that would benefit American workers and our nation’s economy and communities. Now it is up to Congress to recognize the urgency of passing legislation this year and allowing implementation to begin.

Jacinta Ma is Director of Policy and Advocacy at the National Immigration Forum. Kristie De Peña is Senior Immigration Counsel at the Niskanen Center.