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Democrats introduce latest version of DREAM Act in effort to put millions on path to citizenship

Washington — House Democrats on Tuesday reintroduced the latest version of their nearly two-decades-long but elusive DREAM Act legislative effort to put millions of young undocumented immigrants and immigrants with temporary protections on a pathway to U.S. citizenship. 

The Dream and Promise Act of 2019 would grant young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, including those shielded from deportation by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an opportunity to acquire full U.S. permanent residency if they meet certain requirements. Additionally, the bill would allow hundreds of thousands of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients — as well as Liberian immigrants covered by Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) — to gain permanent lawful status.   

"I've been organizing for the DREAM Act for the last nine years," Greisa Martínez, a DACA recipient and the deputy executive director of the immigrant advocacy group United We Dream, told CBS News. "As an organizer, it would mean the realization of a dream. And as a person, it would mean that I get to be able to hug my dad again, who was deported to Mexico." 

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Martínez came to the U.S. from Mexico as a young child and grew up in Dallas. She said the legislation serves as an opportunity for Democrats to rebuke President Trump's "anti-immigrant agenda" and put forward their own vision on immigration through a "clean bill" that does not attach increased funding for immigration enforcement to protections for immigrants like her who are facing possible deportation. 

But she conceded the proposal will face an uphill battle when it comes to garnering the support of Senate Republicans and the president, who will likely denounce it as amnesty. Martínez added that immigration hardliners might seek to use her and other DACA recipients as "bargaining chips" to secure more funding for agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and to overhaul the immigration system to restrict both legal and illegal immigration. 

Democrats Immigration
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined by, from left, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., Jesica Garcia, a dreamer from Rep. Roybal-Allard's majority Latino district in Los Angeles, and Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., introduces The Dream and Promise Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday morning, March 12, 2019. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

New York Democratic Rep. Adriano Espaillat said his Republican colleagues will be "compelled to respond to the wishes of their constituencies" because protections for DACA recipients are popular across the country. Last year, polling by CBS News found that nearly nine in 10 Americans favor allowing young undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. 

For Espaillat, the first former undocumented immigrant to serve in Congress, securing the passage of this legislative effort is a personal mission. 

"As you know, this is very personal to me. Had I not been reunited with my family here after my visa expired as a nine-year-old boy, I wouldn't be a member of Congress," Espaillat told CBS News Tuesday morning. "I'm sure there are lot of DREAMers that have great potential to contribute and are already contributing to our country. And we should allow them the opportunity to stay right here in the United States of America."

Although President Trump pledged on the campaign trail to rescind President Obama's executive order in 2012 that created DACA, he was initially hesitant to strip these protections from young undocumented immigrants early in his presidency, saying it was one of the most challenging issues for him. 

But after several conservatives attorneys general threatened to sue the Trump administration if it kept DACA alive, former attorney general Jeff Sessions announced a gradual winding down of the program in the fall of 2017. However, the Second, Ninth and D.C. Circuits have blocked the government from completely dismantling the program. 

The government currently allows more than 700,000 DACA recipients, commonly referred to as DREAMers, to renew their protections — valid for two years. But it is not accepting new applications. The program allowed young undocumented immigrants to obtain work authorizations and driver's licenses if they met certain requirements, including having arrived in the U.S before they were 16 and obtaining an American high school diploma or GED, or serving honorably in the military.  

The Democrats' new legislation — spearheaded by Congresswomen Lucille Roybal-Allard, Nydia Velázquez and Yvette Clarke — would grant DACA recipients and other young undocumented immigrants conditional U.S. permanent residency if they continuously lived in the U.S. for four years before the bill is signed into law, came to America when they were 17 years old or younger, did not commit serious crimes, obtained an American high school diploma or GED, and passed a background check. 

To be placed on a pathway to citizenship under the bill, these young immigrants must earn a college degree or complete two years of a degree program in an institution of higher education or technical school. They would also qualify if they served honorably in the military or have been employed in the U.S. for more than three years. 

The proposal would also grant this group of young undocumented immigrant access to federal financial aid for college. 

Since Mr. Trump was sworn in, his administration has also sought to end TPS protections for more than 300,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Sudan, Nepal and Nicaragua. But, like the attempt to dismantle the DACA initiative, the administration's efforts have been hampered by court rulings.

The White House also refused to renew the DED protections that have shielded thousands of Liberians who fled the West African country's civil war from deportation since President Clinton authorized them in 1999. Because the lesser-known program operates under the discretion of the president, its recipients are set to loose their work permits and become undocumented on March 31 unless Mr. Trump changes his mind or Congress acts. 

The Dream and Promise Act of 2019 would benefit TPS and DED holders who have been in the U.S. for more than three years before it is enacted, and also make it more arduous for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to end TPS designations for countries.

First introduced in Congress by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin in 2001, the DREAM Act has long been championed by Democrats and some moderate Republicans. But all efforts to get the legislation through the House and Senate have failed under both Republican and Democratic administrations. 

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