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After DACA’s demise, immigration advocates are hopeful for permanent legislation

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WASHINGTON, D.C.– Pro-immigration advocates are hopeful that Congress could quickly move on permanent immigration legislation within weeks, assured that a bipartisan bill could patch a big void left by the Trump White House after it recently dismantled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, an Obama-era deportation relief program that helped roughly 800,000 undocumented immigrants.

During a meeting with a small group of reporters last week, strategists from the advocacy groups America’s Voice and Emerson Collective pointed out that the most realistic and best bet for Democrats to pass permanent deportation protection for so-called DREAMers is if it is attached to “must-pass” legislation like a spending bill.

“We’re trying to figure out, ‘what are the chances of getting legislation across the finish line in this window of opportunity?’ What is the window of opportunity?,” Frank Sharry, the executive director at the advocacy group America’s Voice, told reporters last Friday. He pointed out that it’s unlikely Republicans would bring up an immigration bill through regular order, the long, procedural (and often bipartisan) process through which a bill is brought to a floor vote.

“It’s just an excuse to keep kicking the can down the road,” Sharry said. “It results, almost every time, in nothing.”

“We want them to do this now — the harm is happening now,” Marshall Fitz, Managing Director of Immigration, Emerson Collective, added. “The reality is that Republicans are holding the bag for people who are losing status, losing jobs, caught up and swept into enforcement actions.”

The recent wind down of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — which grants temporary deportation relief and work authorization to undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children — has been something of a lingering headache for lawmakers. It’ll be difficult to find a permanent legislative solution in such a short time frame. That is perhaps why Trump said he would “revisit this issue” the day his White House announced DACA’s demise.

Strategists pointed out that any immigration measure to continue protections for so-called DREAMers will likely include a Republican-led border security measure. However, they said that President Donald Trump’s promise to build out a border wall is not only a nonstarter among a bipartisan group of lawmakers, but that it would poison talks for other border security-related measures that Democrats could agree on, like hiring more independent immigration judges.

“This is a disaster [Republicans] created in order to have this kind of hostage exchange,” Anya McMurray, Director of Immigration Policy and Strategy, Emerson Collective, told reporters.

Democrats also will likely not agree to anything that would lead to the “easier deportation of DREAMers,” Sharry said.

Still, any kind of deal set in this administration could largely undermine a benchmark set by immigrant advocates in 2013, when Congress was on track to vote for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have granted eventual citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants. With any kind of DREAMer-specific measure, that would mean nearly 800,000 DREAMers will be saved; their undocumented parents will not.

“It’s obviously a dramatically different dynamic when you’re saying ‘everyone is on the same playing field and we’ll just help this one group,’” Fitz said. “But everyone isn’t not on the same playing field anymore — ICE has all 800,000 addresses, fingerprints. They know more about them than anyone in this room.”

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