Congressional Democrats are weighing a push for a fix to the decade-old program that protects hundreds of thousands of immigrants known as “Dreamers” in the lame-duck session.
Democratic leaders in both chambers on Tuesday signaled that Democrats are open to pursuing a bill for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program before the new session of Congress starts in January, when Republicans are favored to take control of the House.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., mentioned addressing DACA as a top priority in the lame-duck session during a Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday, a senior Democratic aide told NBC News.
“We want to get DACA done,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “We’d like to get whatever we can do in the lame duck session and number of our senators, led by Senator [Dick] Durbin as well as Senator [Kyrsten] Sinema and others working in a bipartisan way — we’re trying to get something done.”
“It’s a long-shot but it’s still worth pursuing,” Durbin, the Democratic Senate whip, told reporters.
During a news conference Tuesday, Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., who serves as vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, confirmed the issue was a priority for House Democrats.
“The courts have put DACA at risk moving forward and we want to make sure that we offer the ability for these individuals who have had DACA status and are American in every way — except the piece of paper — to continue and to have hopefully a legislative solution to a path to citizenship,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar noted that Democrats will need the required 10 GOP votes in the Senate to move forward with legislation. He expressed confidence that a group of Senate Democrats, including Durbin, are working to gain the Republican votes needed in the upper chamber.
“We hope they can resolve them and we stand to be willing partners in that discussion moving forward,” Aguilar said.
Federal courts are expected to end the 2012 executive order known as DACA that has protected young immigrants at risk of losing their work authorization and security from deportation sometime early next year. Congressional Republicans have state their opposition to protecting Dreamers, unless Democrats make the unlikely move of making significant concessions to increase security at the border and reject asylum-seekers. Democrats are projected to hold onto the majority in the Senate, but control of the House remains unknown.
More than 600,000 people benefit from DACA protections, which allow them to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
Last month, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that DACA was illegal but allowed more than 600,000 current DACA recipients to keep their status while a lower court reviewed a new DACA rule the Biden administration put forward.
The judge in the lower court, Andrew Hannen of U.S. District Court for Southern Texas, later ordered attorneys in the case to provide more information and said he expects additional legal arguments related to the new rule. Hannen did not set a timetable for the case at the time.
The case is likely to eventually head to the Supreme Court, where the high court’s conservative majority would almost certainly strike down the program.
President Joe Biden expressed disappointment in the 5th Circuit’s decision in a statement, blaming the decision on Republican state officials who pushed efforts to strip DACA recipients of their protections. Biden then urged Congress to take action on DACA.
“And while we will use the tools we have to allow Dreamers to live and work in the only country they know as home, it is long past time for Congress to pass permanent protections for Dreamers, including a pathway to citizenship,” Biden said.
“My Administration is committed to defending Dreamers against attacks from Republican officials in Texas and other States,” the president said. “This challenge to DACA is just another example of the extreme agenda being pushed by MAGA-Republican officials.”