What Congress could do to protect young unauthorized immigrants

PHOTO: Sens. Richard Durbin and Lindsey Graham conduct a news conference in the Capitol on a bipartisan DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for immigrants who grew up in the U.S., Sept. 5, 2017.PlayTom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images
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The Trump administration's plan to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, established by executive order under Barack Obama to protect hundreds of thousands of young unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. from deportation, has put Congress under the gun to put forward a legislative fix.

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While efforts to create a path to citizenship and legal status for program enrollees, known as Dreamers, have repeatedly stalled over the years, the administration has given Congress six months to produce a solution before it starts unwinding the program.

"Now we have a compelling reason, a timely reason" to act, said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

The last full-scale effort to tackle the issue came in 2013, when the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that included provisions for Dreamers. The bill stalled in the Republican-controlled House over GOP divisions on immigration.

Here are several proposals circulating on Capitol Hill:

The Dream Act of 2017: Sen. Lindsey Graham and Durbin

The bipartisan bill, modeled on earlier proposals, would allow Dreamers to obtain permanent residency and American citizenship if they graduate from high school or obtain a GED and work for at least three years, serve in the military or pursue higher education. The bill would require applicants to demonstrate English proficiency, have no history of serious crimes and pass law enforcement and security background checks.

A similar bill passed the Democratic-controlled House in 2010 but failed to advance in the Senate.

"Congress is going to have to up its game," Graham, R-S.C., said at a news conference with Durbin on Tuesday.

Recognizing America's Children Act: moderate House Republicans

Eighteen moderate House Republicans have endorsed a proposal to create a path to permanent residency and citizenship for high school graduates who do not rely on public assistance. Applicants would be eligible to apply for permanent residency if they pursue a college degree, serve in the military or stay employed for five years. Eventually, they would be permitted to apply for citizenship. Military personnel would be eligible to apply for naturalization immediately and skip applying for permanent residency.

It's unclear if GOP leaders support this initiative. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who voted against the Dream Act in the House in 2010, said Tuesday that Congress should "find consensus" on a permanent legislative solution to address the status of Dreamers after the administration's announcement that it was ending DACA.

The Bridge Act: Rep. Mike Coffman

A bipartisan proposal from Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., would temporarily extend protections for young unauthorized immigrants eligible for DACA.

Eligible applicants — young students and veterans who pass a criminal background check — would be shielded from deportation for three years. Much like DACA, the proposal would apply to unauthorized immigrants born after June 15, 1981, who entered the United States before their 16th birthday and before June 15, 2007.

In a tweet over the August recess, Coffman said he would attempt a rare parliamentary tactic to force a vote on his measure later this month.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Graham introduced similar bills in the Senate this year.

Other efforts underway

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., announced plans Tuesday to introduce legislation that would allow Dreamers to remain in the U.S. if hey are employed, serve in the military or pursue higher education.

Other Republicans have signaled a desire to pair any proposal with addition border security funding or other immigration policies. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who is close to the White House, has offered to support a legislative package including the Dream Act and his own proposal to limit legal immigration into the United States — a bill strongly opposed by Democrats.

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