Latino leaders press Senate for DACA protections in lame-duck session

FILE - Susana Lujano, left, a dreamer from Mexico who lives in Houston, joins other activists to rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on June 15, 2022.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
FILE – Susana Lujano, left, a dreamer from Mexico who lives in Houston, joins other activists to rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on June 15, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

A group of 66 top Hispanic community leaders on Wednesday called on the Senate to include protections for Dreamers in must-pass legislation during the lame-duck session this month.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the group remarked on the urgency of protections for Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors — amid court action threatening to undo the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“In recent months, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals declared the original 2012 DACA policy unlawful, which has set the stage for this incredibly successful and popular program to be struck down by the Supreme Court. Resolution of this issue is of critical importance to America’s Hispanic community, as the futures of many of our families and community members hang on by the thinnest of judicial threads,” they wrote.

The co-signers — a who’s who of Latino political, advocacy, immigration, faith and business leaders — based their plea in part on the sentiment of Hispanic voters.

“One thing is crystal clear: Hispanic voters support permanent protections for Dreamers and other undocumented communities. Seventy eight percent of Latino voters in battleground states say that Congress should act to protect Dreamers if a federal court overturns the DACA program,” they wrote.

But the letter also touches on the positive economic impact of Dreamers.

“Indeed, DACA holders are powerful engines of economic growth, contributing an estimated $9.5 billion annually in local, state, and federal taxes and running an estimated 45,000 businesses. When the last DACA recipient’s work permit expires, the U.S. will have lost more than 500,000 jobs, and the U.S. economy will lose as much as $11.7 billion annually — or roughly $1 billion monthly — in wages from previously employed DACA recipients,” they wrote.

While many members of Congress in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle have publicly embraced those political and economic considerations, a deal to extend DACA protections by law has remained out of reach.

DACA, former President Obama’s signature immigration program, was originally enacted as a memorandum, intended to be a stopgap measure while Congress legislated a broader statutory solution for Dreamers.

Under immigration laws as they’ve stood for decades, most Dreamers have effectively no way to legalize their stay in the United States, much less to seek permanent residency or citizenship.

In the decade since DACA was implemented, most legal attacks against the program have failed, but it was ruled illegal in an October decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The course of litigation suggests that any further delay could cause irreparable harm to these individuals and their families, with ripple effects to their workplaces and our economy generally,” wrote the letter’s co-signers.

Those behind it include Sergio Gonzales, executive director of the Immigration Hub, Sonia Perez, interim president and CEO of UnidosUS, Greisa Martínez of United We Dream, Latino Victory Project CEO Nathalie Rayes, Héctor Sánchez Barba of Mi Familia Vota, Frankie Miranda of the Hispanic Federation and Arturo Vargas of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials.

With near-unanimous Democratic support for Dreamer protections, the lame-duck onus has fallen on the Senate, where 10 Republicans would have to vote with Democrats to approve any legislation.

A proposal put forth by Republican Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.) and now-Independent Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema would grant a path to citizenship to almost 2 million Dreamers, but its internal immigration enforcement measures could erode Democratic support for the package.

Democratic political support for a deal is closely tied to public sentiment among immigrant communities, including Dreamers and other undocumented groups, many of whom form part of the same communities.

“Latino communities across the US are watching who steps up to fight for Dreamers and who stands by as the lives of Dreamers, their families and communities are upended,” the letter says.

But proposals like the Tillis-Sinema framework highlight a tension created among immigrant communities when legislative solutions create protections for one group while endangering the livelihoods of others.

Still, an end to DACA without a legislative replacement would retract one of the most economically successful immigration programs in recent history.

“We urge you to work together on a way forward and prioritize this issue in any end-of-year package. It may well be now or never for Dreamers,” wrote the Hispanic leaders.

—Updated at 1:16 p.m.

Tags Chuck Schumer Mitch McConnell

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