Republicans are grappling with how to develop a conservative-friendly Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — the Obama-era order protecting an estimated 800,000 unauthorized immigrants from deportation that President Donald Trump plans to sunset in March.
This week, three Republican senators introduced a bill that is emerging as the Republican-led solution to their DACA problem: a proposal that would create a 15-year path to citizenship for DACA recipients, would have a “merit-based” residency program for children who arrived in the United States before the age of 16, and wouldn’t allow recipients to sponsor family members to the United States on a green card — a direct nod to Trump’s recent calls against “chain migration.”
But already the proposal has undergone a flanking attack from the both the Republican Party’s most conservative members who decry any path to citizenship as “amnesty,” and from Democrats — at least eight of whom have to sign on to any legislative fix in the Senate — who argue the proposal’s age cutoffs are too severe.
It’s clear Congress still hasn’t figured out exactly what they will do about DACA. We know the broad contours of what a deal could look like after top Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer met with Trump in the White House earlier this month — something that enshrines DACA into law and also has a strong border security package, most likely not including the wall.
But after a week preoccupied by NFL protests, Republicans resurrecting the specter of Obamacare repeal, and a new push on tax reform, what to do about the 800,000 or so young immigrants who grew up thinking of themselves as American has more or less fallen off the national radar.
If a deal does come together, there is a growing list of proposals Republicans and Democrats can choose from.
Four proposals Congress could use to replace DACA
Trump has repeatedly stated he wants DREAMers — those protected under DACA — to stay, and for Congress to figure out something fast. He hasn’t given many more specifics.
His articulation of some hypothetical legislative fix is something that has “massive border security,” doesn’t include amnesty, and will not allow for chain migration, the notion that people will bring in their families once they are eligible for residency. All of those points are up for debate.
Here are some of the interpretations:
The SUCCEED Act, the newest proposal from Sens. Thom Tillis (NC), James Lankford (OK), and Orrin Hatch (UT), appears to address some of these concerns.
Similar to the RAC (Recognizing America’s Children) Act proposal from House Republicans, this would allow people who arrived before the age of 16 and before June 12, 2012, and who have undergone a thorough criminal background check and submitted biometric information, to receive “conditional permanent resident” status — requiring them to work, go to school, or serve in the military. Recipients have to renew this temporary status after five years, and after 10 years they can apply for a permanent residency or a green card.
Green card holders have to wait another five years before they can apply for citizenship. In other words, at a minimum any path to citizenship would take 15 years. Under this proposal, parents of recipients cannot receive any benefits and cannot be sponsored for residency.
Already immigration advocates have decried the bill as too harsh. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said the proposal would have difficulty picking up Democratic votes. And conservatives haves said the proposal’s path to citizenship — even though it takes 15 years — is equivalent to amnesty. But it’s likely this is a proposal most rank-and-file Republicans can get behind.
As Vox’s Dara Lind has explained, there are the three other options available to Congress:
All of these proposals would likely be paired with some kind of additional security package.
There’s a lot of circular debate over how to make DACA conservative
Conversations on DACA seem to still be in early stages.
Conservatives in the House have started a working group led by Idaho Republican Rep. Raúl Labrador, who is also in a working group with Republican leadership. In the Senate, Tillis and Lankford’s SUCCEED Act was largely welcomed as the conservative alternative to the Democrats’ push for the DREAM Act — but it’s unlikely to garner enough votes on the other side of the aisle to become law on its own.
As Lind writes, “it is unlikely, to say the least, that any of these bills would have 60 votes in the Senate as they exist today — and that Trump would sign a bill that only addressed the DREAMer question.”
What will be in the compromise? Everyone — including Democrats — have said they can agree to some kind of border security package, as long as it’s not funding for the border wall. That could mean anything from boots on the ground to increased surveillance technology. Even Lankford and Tillis, who proposed the SUCCEED Act this week, say their bill should only be part of the proposal to legislatively address DACA.
But there are certain baseline disagreements within the Republican Party that will likely come to a head once debate heats up, none of which have been cleared up by the president — namely what Republicans can reasonably pass as “not amnesty.”
For some, any path to citizenship is a difficult line to cross — especially without a large border security package added on.
“There would have to be a whole lot more than a wall if I were to give amnesty to a whole lot of illegal aliens who are going to take jobs from American citizens and suppress the wages of American citizens by artificially inflating the labor force,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said.