The time has come to strike a deal on the dreamers


No issue better illustrates the difficulty of immigration reform than the plight of the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, who were brought to the United States as children. Years of congressional inaction have left these migrants subject to wayward court rulings that threaten to force some of them out of the only country they know – which is why President Joe Biden must push on lawmakers to make a deal to protect the Dreamers now. With a Congressional change of control looming, they may not get another chance.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program was created in 2012, via an executive order from President Barack Obama. It protects undocumented immigrants brought into the country before age 16 from deportation, allowing them to study and work legally in the United States and renew their status every two years. Since its inception, the program has enrolled more than 800,000 young adults – at least a third of whom have been in the United States since age 5 – and has benefited the entire country. DACA households pay $6.2 billion in federal taxes and $3.3 billion in state and local taxes annually.

Despite these contributions, DACA recipients still lack clarity about their legal status and whether they will be allowed to remain in the United States. In 2020, the Supreme Court granted enrollees a temporary reprieve by blocking President Donald Trump’s attempt to end the program, while allowing legal challenges against it to continue. Last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit declared DACA illegal and referred the case to a Texas district judge who had previously overturned Obama’s original executive order. If the judge rules against Biden’s updated DACA rule, some enrollees will immediately lose their right to work and again be subject to deportation.

Such a result would be devastating. Beyond the anxiety of the (entirely blameless) immigrants themselves, the companies that would employ them would face cumulative turnover costs of $6.3 billion with the closure of DACA – at a time when thousands of positions are already vacant.

The lame session after next week’s midterm elections may be Congress’s best chance to avoid that scenario. The House has already passed a bill that would permanently protect DACA recipients from deportation and give them a pathway to citizenship. A bipartisan effort in the Senate would do much the same. To get enough Republican senators on board to overcome a filibuster, Democratic leaders would have to respond to GOP demands for tougher border security measures, including investments in labor and technology, funding for fill some gaps in physical border barriers and an expansion of policies requiring some asylum seekers to stay in Mexico. If giving DACA enrollees a path to citizenship proves too difficult, Congress should at least expand their work authorization and deportation protections, a fallback that has already won bipartisan support.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has suggested that Republican Representatives would resist a citizenship-for-security deal if they win a majority. He should remember that nearly 75% of Americans favor granting legal status to the Dreamers, and that their expulsion is extremely unpopular, even among staunch conservatives. The DACA drama is entering its second decade – far too long for young families to live in perpetual fear of their world being turned upside down by the courts.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• The American dream still eludes dreamers: Francis Wilkinson

• Trump’s failure to build the border wall is all his own: Ramesh Ponnuru

• A New Day for Dreamers: Editorial

The editors are members of the Bloomberg Opinion Editorial Board.

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