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Legislative solution required to protect Dreamers

 


When President Trump’s administration announced that it would give six months to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, many young people called “Dreamers,” immigrants who grew up in the U.S., were once again faced with uncertainty regarding their future here.

In Washington State, there are about 17,000 Dreamers. I have sat down with some of these young people right here in Central Washington, and their stories are compelling. Many were brought here as young children without their say or knowledge, and have grown up no differently than any other American child. The Dreamers I know are outstanding young people who desire to improve our communities. I firmly believe that as Americans, we do not punish children for the mistakes of their parents, and these children are no exception.

I also believe that President Obama’s decision to take unilateral executive action to create DACA placed these young people in legal limbo. DACA required applicants to register and give proof that they were in school or have graduated from high school, pay a fee, and pass a criminal background check. In exchange, the federal government provided temporary protection from removal and authorization to work legally.

As we have seen, executive actions are not long-term answers because they do not have the force of permanent law. Under our Constitution, only Congress can make laws. Executive programs might only last as long as a single presidency, which is why any permanent solution requires action from Congress to change the law.

In Congress, I have long been working with my colleagues on legislative solutions for Dreamers. In January, I co-sponsored the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act, which would provide “provisional protected presence” and employment authorization to DACA-eligible individuals for three years. The BRIDGE Act was originally meant to transition Dreamers from their uncertain status under the executive order to bona fide legal status under a statute, which means it will likely need to be changed in light of the President’s announcement.

I have also supported Recognizing America’s Children Act, which would provide Dreamers with a five-year “conditional permanent resident” status if they pursue vocational or higher education, enlist in the military or are gainfully employed, and comply with other requirements. I have co-sponsored the Encourage New Legalized Immigrants to Start Training (ENLIST) Act that would allow otherwise qualified undocumented immigrants brought here as children to earn legal status through military service.

With the President’s announced six-month deadline for DACA, these proposals are now a starting point as debate in Congress takes center stage. A bipartisan compromise that invests in securing the border and providing a long-term solution that gives Dreamers stability may be one option moving forward. There are many facets of the debate to secure our borders and reform our immigration system. As this debate now returns to the people’s representatives in Congress, I am committed to working on behalf of Dreamers and urge my colleagues to work together to provide a legislative solution.

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