If San Diego’s representatives are any indication, Congress may struggle to agree on a solution for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and signed up for an Obama-era program that protected them from deportation.
President Donald Trump is phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and has given Congress six months to pass legislation to protect its participants. Some members of Congress hope to add protections for other unauthorized immigrant groups besides DACA recipients, and others plan to include measures to tighten border security. San Diego’s delegation is split along party lines on ideas for the best way to move forward.
The three Democrats who represent the San Diego area, Rep. Scott Peters, Rep. Susan Davis and Rep. Juan Vargas, are all pushing to pass the DREAM Act, a bipartisan bill that would give green cards to those who came to the U.S. before they were 18. These dreamers would have to pass background checks and meet educational criteria.
“Congress needs to pass the DREAM Act now,” Vargas said. “The DREAM Act has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate — it is the clear path forward that will help secure the future of these hardworking, young DREAMers who call America home and contribute so much to our country.”
Davis said that in addition to passing the DREAM Act, she hopes to work on comprehensive reform that would protect dreamers’ family members.
Peters would also be interested in putting comprehensive reform on the table, but he doesn’t want that conversation to slow down a solution for DACA recipients.
“We have a little bit of a deadline that President Trump imposed, and we don't want these kids to be worried,” he said. “I'd like to get this done by the end of the year.”
Peters said there are some border security measures that he would agree to in order to get the DREAM Act passed.
“There's border security, and there's border security,” Peters said. “I'm certainly opposed to the wall.”
He said the government does need to invest in quicker ways to screen cargo crossing the border for drugs and better technology for finding tunnels.
Rep. Darrell Issa said he would vote no on the DREAM Act and is instead pushing a solution that would dole out green cards over several years without increasing the overall number of permanent residencies that the U.S. gives out each year.
“When you try to structure something that would work, the thing is to try not to disrupt the existing system,” Issa said.
Unlike the DREAM Act, his approach would limit green cards to dreamers who participated in DACA.
“President Obama created an opportunity, and those who took advantage of it applied, and those who decided not to didn’t,” Issa said. “I think that’s an important part of the process.”
Congress should separate conversations about solutions for other groups, like agricultural workers or those who were too young to apply for DACA while it existed, he said.
Issa criticized those from both sides who are insisting additional measures be added to legislation that would provide a solution for DACA recipients to remain in the U.S. He said in the years he’s been in Congress, he’s seen entrenched positions on both sides thwart attempts at immigration solutions.
“There’s always somebody who wants to essentially foul the deal by demanding something,” Issa said. “We can have that discussion, but that’s what it is, a discussion about additional things that each side wants.”
He emphasized that his solution would be “immigration neutral,” that it didn’t increase the number of immigrants permitted to the U.S. on an annual basis. Splitting the green cards over an estimated five years would also allow government offices the time they need to screen applicants, he said. Dreamers waiting for green cards would not be deported and would have work authorization, just as people who have applied for green cards while in the U.S. on temporary visas are allowed to stay and work while they wait.
Visas given out to dreamers would not count towards annual country caps, he said, which have created decades-long lines for immigrants from certain countries, particularly Mexico and the Philippines.
Rep. Duncan Hunter did not respond to requests for comment. When the Trump administration announced DACA’s end, his chief of staff, Joe Kasper, said that it should be up to Congress to decide. He did not indicate Hunter’s feelings on the content of such legislation.