WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

14 Jun 2018 | WOLA Statement

Congressional Republicans Hold Migrant Children and Dreamers Hostage to Extreme Immigration Legislation

This post was updated on June 18, 2018.

On Tuesday, June 12, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that Republican lawmakers will vote on two immigration-related bills. The legislation originally intended to address the urgent need to protect Dreamers has become entangled in the controversies surrounding the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policies that separate migrant children from their families at the border. Two Republican bills are expected to reach the House floor this week. This move comes after moderate Republicans were unable to garner enough support within their party to force votes on bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers.

For months, Congress has been unable to agree on sensible, pragmatic measures that would protect Dreamers. Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues a full-fledged assault on already vulnerable migrant communities, traumatically separating families at the Southwest border, establishing a zero-tolerance policy to criminally prosecute all illegal border crossers, reducing asylum categories, which will endanger the lives of tens of thousands of Central Americans and others who are victims of domestic violence and gang persecution, ending protective status programs that have existed for decades, and ramping up deportations of undocumented immigrants in the interior. While negotiations often mean compromise, Congress must not allow Dreamers or migrant children to be used as leverage to enact inhumane, anti-immigrant proposals.

The bill the House will bring to a vote this week authored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) would further the cruel immigration policies being pursued by the Trump administration. It would reduce legal immigration by up to 40 percent, implement ineffective and wasteful border security measures, and ramp up Trump’s internal deportation force, while only offering some Dreamers a three-year renewable immigration status, with no path to citizenship.

House Speaker Paul Ryan will also introduce a bill that Republican leadership has presented as a “compromise.” However, in its current state the bill would also have a devastating effect on U.S. immigrant communities: it uses families being separated at the border as a bargaining chip for pushing through the same wasteful security policies in the Goodlatte bill. The Ryan bill would also tie the fate of DACA recipients and other migrants to $25 billion in wall funding.

Both of these bills attempt to bargain off Dreamers, who most Americans believe have a right to stay in the United States, in exchange for extreme policies. The bills would also limit legal immigration and add a new level of misery to the already oppressive environment this administration has created for immigrant communities. Similar legislation garnered little support in the Senate when it was put up for a vote in February.

Ending protections for immigrants who have been legally living and working in the United States for years under TPS and DACA would have devastating consequences in this country and abroad, especially in Latin America. Senior U.S. officials have already warned the administration that returning hundreds of thousands of Central American migrants poses threats to our security interests both in the region and in the United States. Due to insecurity and lack of economic opportunity, countries are in no condition to absorb a wave of newcomers, including individuals who have spent decades in the United States. Recently returned migrants, particularly young people, are also vulnerable to gang persecution and recruitment. Mass deportation is very likely to spur even more violence and economic insecurity, and with them another wave of migration from Central America.

Congress came close to bringing up a measure that would provide meaningful protection for Dreamers. Democrats and moderate Republicans were just two signatures short of the 218 they needed to force House leadership to allow debate and a vote on a more reasonable bill. Congress should use this bill as a starting point to find a realistic, pragmatic formula to protect Dreamers and others without imposing draconian anti-immigration policies, funding a wasteful border wall, or ramping up measures that will tear immigrant families apart.

The Trump administration must put an end to its zero tolerance policy that is separating children from their families at the border and undermining the legal right to asylum. Family separation should not be replaced with a policy of family incarceration. Congress should support the Keep Families Together Act, S. 3036 introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein and the corresponding House version, H.R. 6135 introduced by Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). These are “clean” bills that would make it illegal to separate families except in extreme circumstances. At last count, the Senate bill had 49 co-sponsors. None are Republicans. This legislation also protects the legal right to seek asylum for those who are fleeing violence and persecution, a principal that has long been embodied in U.S. and international law.