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A Year of DACA in Congress

Policy and Advocacy
November 29, 2018 Diana Ali NASPA

With a new Congress to take on the Hill in January, the current state of agency oversight and legislation under consideration is likely to change. The question of how oversight and legislation will be implemented remains. Since the academic year started this past fall, a number of newly-proposed or implemented immigration policies continue to pose potential threats for immigrant and international students, though again the question as to the pervasiveness of these threats remains. This post will explore the current state of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the likelihood for DACA to be considered under the 116th Congress, and implications for the higher education community. For updates on the broader range of threats to immigrants and international students, including implications pertaining to Public Charge and the Overstay Visa Policy, please tune in this afternoon Thursday, November 29, to a free 30-minute policy briefing update on national immigration policy.

Will We See Movement on DACA in 2018?

The short answer is, most likely, no. The lame-duck session has begun, and among the passage of key legislation such as the Farm bill and reauthorization of the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA), the protection of undocumented students, for the third time this year, has been raised in a national conversation regarding funding for the US-Mexico border wall.  In first February and then May of 2018, the Senate and House of Representatives took up the issue of finding a permanent solution to DACA-recipients, but were unable to move legislation forward. A main reason for this has been connected to stringent additions to comprehensive immigration measures such as that of the Grassley Amendment, or the Broader Options for Americans Act in the Senate or the Goodlatte Bill, or the Securing America’s Future Act, in the House. Both of these comprehensive measures included, in addition to a pathway for citizenship for undocumented individuals, increased restrictions for legal immigration and funding for a US-Mexico border wall.

A key part of President Trump’s anti-immigration platform focuses on procuring funding for the border wall, which has therefore been closely tied in the ongoing federal level conversation regarding the continuance of DACA. As border wall funding has once again come under consideration during the current lame-duck Congressional session, a pathway for undocumented individuals has once again entered the conversation in Congress as well. However, while President Trump has asked for $5 billion in border wall funding in exchange for avoiding a government shutdown to further appropriations funding past December 7, he has also indicated no interest of striking a compromise in exchange for permanent legislation securing border wall funding until after a decision regarding DACA has been made in the Supreme Court.

Barring Congressional action, the continuation of the DACA program remains in the hands of the courts. After President Trump’s announcement of intent to end the program in September of 2017, DACA has been upheld temporarily through multiple court injunctions that have secured the ability for current recipients to renew status, though new applications to the program remain unavailable at this time. The continuance of the program currently hinges on whether the Supreme Court will take up a review after the Department of Justice filed certiorari before judgement regarding a Ninth Circuit ruling from January 2018 instructing the Department of Homeland Security to better substantiate evidence in support for the elimination of the program, or reinstate DACA in its entirety.

Will We See Movement on DACA in 2019?

Unfortunately, the answer to this is harder to predict. Since the flip in control of the the House at midterms, several elected officials have indicated motivation to withhold action on immigration reform until 2020, as a political platform to gain votes in the next presidential election. Senate Democratic Leader, Charles Schumer (NY), has indicated that Senate Democrats are no longer interested in striking a DACA compromise in exchange for the border wall, due to multiple failed attempts over the past year.

A recent article in The Atlantic shares a letter signed by over 300 organizations urging the 116th Congress, which starts up in January 2019,  to uphold a permanent solution for DACA. However, lawmakers remain divided around immigration reform making comprehensive measures difficult to pass. It may be possible for a narrow piece of legislation specifically pertaining to the continuance of the DACA program on its own, which has accrued bipartisan support, would be able to pass through a Democratic House to a Republican Senate, but the likelihood of seeing such legislation introduced once Congress reconvenes in January remains unknown.

Implications for Higher Education

According to a 2017 Cato Institute publication, the average DACA recipient is 22 years old, is currently employed, earns an average of $17 an hour, and is more likely than not still in college, including 17 percent pursuing advanced degrees. Once DACA recipients graduate, they go on to have careers and families of their own, all of which could be affected in the long-term should the program be terminated. Cutting the program would cost the US economy billions of dollars and impact the institutions of higher education across the country in which DACA recipients excel as students, faculty and staff.

The back and forth regarding the status of DACA in both Congress and the courts creates a level of ambiguity around the continuance of program affecting the nearly 690,000, as of September 2017, current recipients of the program. Information dissemination has become an increasingly important form of advocacy at this time for both current DACA recipients and undocumented members of the higher education community overall. Last year, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), in conjunction with over three dozen other immigration-focused organizations created a resource app for undocumented individuals called the Community Resource Center. The resources found within the app are specifically tailored for undocumented students and their families and are easily accessible.  

Finally, NASPA’s official 2018 stance on immigration continues to uphold a call for Congress to pass not only a permanent solution for DACA, but a pathway to citizenship for 3.6 million qualifying undocumented immigrants, often referred to as Dreamers. High level policy conversations and media headlines that paint broad strokes around trading the lives of immigrant youth in exchange for political clout or immigrant enforcement funding may be upsetting during uncertain times. The NASPA Policy and Advocacy Team will continue to work with members on finding avenues to advocate around the issues you care about, including the inclusion of safe spaces for marginalized individuals within the higher education community as immigration reform continues to be considered in the 116th Congress.