Immigration expert: DACA needs a permanent legislative solution
Laura Collins, immigration policy expert with the George W. Bush Institute, discusses the tumultuous history of legislation aimed at undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.
There are about 580,000 people with DACA status in the U.S. — and about 100,00 of them live in Texas. They're all waiting for a Texas federal judge to rule on the legality of the program. KERA's Stella Chavez spoke with immigration policy expert Laura Collins about what Congress could do. Collins is the director of the Bush Institute SMU Economic Growth Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.
There’s a long history of legislation introduced in Congress for so-called DREAMers — these are undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children — but Congress has failed to pass any of it. Could you talk about that?
Collins: “There has been legislation in front of Congress for more than 20 years now. It’s almost always bipartisan and yet it’s never made it across the line onto a president’s desk for signature. We know that supporting DREAMers and having a permanent legislative solution for them is something that’s broadly popular in the public — voters tend to like this as a topic — and yet it hasn’t been able to get there.
You hear different political arguments for and against. Sometimes it’s people deferring to the border and some people think that it’s a magnet for additional unauthorized immigration. We know that’s just really not the case.
DREAMers, whether they were brought here by their parents and overstayed a visa or brought here illegally, or whether they were here with parents on legal visas who can’t get green cards because of wait times, we know that these are folks who are just victims of an immigration system that doesn’t work very well. And it’s really not designed for the America that we have today.”
Currently, we have DACA — or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — which was implemented under the Obama administration. But that’s been in legal limbo for awhile. Why is that?
Collins: “In 2012, because there was not really a good chance for DREAMer legislation, the Obama administration did some executive action to try to protect DREAMers from deportation, provide them ability to have work permits. There [are] some requirements attached to that. They have to file some paperwork, pay some fees. This is pretty standard when we look at what executive action would look like on something like immigration because the executive branch does not have a lot of leeway to legal folks, but it can provide some other relief.
This is one of the things that’s tough about executive action. Even if you follow the rules perfectly and all the law’s in place, a future administration can go and take that away. We saw that with the Trump administration. They tried to rescind DACA and ever since then, it’s really been in litigation. When you don’t have Congress making immigration policy through laws, this is what you end up with.”
What would you like to see Congress do to allow Dreamers, DACA recipients to stay in the U.S. permanently?
Collins: “I think that Congress has to really get serious about redesigning our immigration system from top to bottom, and that includes looking at those legal pathways and making sure that we have the workers that our 21st century economy needs and so DREAMers do need to have a permanent legislative solution.
I think that they should be able to eventually apply for citizenship, but others disagree and say that their legalization is what matters the most and that’s really a question for Congress to decide.
If Congress is willing to go as far as citizenship or if they’re going to stay at legalization regardless, only Congress can give them a permanent solution. No executive action is going to do that. And so it really is up to Congress to get serious about this and decide that this is a population of people that they value enough to provide a solution for."
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