New ‘Dreamer’ bill extends a hand to other immigrants

House Democrats unveil broad reform measure

HOUSE DEMOCRATS INTRODUCED sweeping new legislation last week that would provide permanent protection and a path to citizenship to young immigrants and others here under other residency statuses.

Changes proposed by the Dream and Promise Act would impact an estimated two million people, including more than 30,000 in Massachusetts.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Democratic Congresswomen Yvette Clarke, Nydia Velázquez, and Lucille Roybal-Allard introduced the bill March 12.

The bill would help three different groups of immigrants: Those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) who faced danger in their home country; Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) residents, a special status that currently pertains only to Liberian immigrants; and those covered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program established by former President Barack Obama in 2012 to protect those brought into the country illegally by their parents as minors.

All three groups currently have only temporary permission to work or live in the US, and no way to apply for permanent status. Some of them have lived in the US for decades.

The bill is more expansive than past versions of the DREAM Act, which only addressed the status of DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,” living in the US, and includes proposed relief for deported DACA recipients.

Under the legislation, TPS and Deferred Enforced Departure recipients who had their status as of September 25, 2016, could seek permanent residency as long as they lived in the US for three consecutive years.

More than 12,000 people in Massachusetts have Temporary Protected Status, a designation established by Congress in 1990 that protects foreign nationals from being returned to their home country if there are concerns about armed conflict or other extraordinary conditions.

More than 6,000 TPS holders in Massachusetts are from El Salvador and Haiti, according to figures from US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Department of Homeland Security said it would comply with a federal court order in February, which will automatically extend to January 2020 the Temporary Protected Status of 250,000 immigrants who were previously facing deportation, including residents from those two countries.

Emmanuelle Dejeanlouis, a 20-year-old Brighton resident who came to the US at 11 months old from Haiti, is one of them. Her mother fled warlike conditions in the nation and domestic violence at home to come to the US in 1999. Two decades later, Dejeanlouis is a TPS recipient and student at MassBay Community College in Wellesley. Along with her studies, Dejeanlouis works part-time to help her mother, a nursing assistant, support their family.

Dejeanlouis credits the TPS program with allowing her to help support her mother and four siblings, but she is concerned that without a long-term fix she could be deported. “I don’t even know what Haiti looks like,” she said. “I wish people would just see us as students who want to contribute to their economy–who want to go to school, and put in the work.”

The Dream and Promise Act offers DACA recipients a more complex path, including “conditional permanent residency status” to those who were 17 or younger when they initially entered the US, and have lived in the country for at least four years before enactment of the bill, if it becomes law. A high school diploma (or GED) and passing of criminal background checks are also requirements.

To get permanent resident status under the bill, eligible DACA holders would need at least two years of military service, a completed college degree, or be employed for periods of time totaling at least three years and at least 75 percent of the time that person has had employment authorization.

Applicants with a history of student visa abuse, multiple misdemeanors, felonies, or domestic/sexual violence history would be disqualified, along with anyone involved in human trafficking.

The new bill includes a path to citizenship beyond the 800,000 people who now have DACA status to those who were brought to the US as children but didn’t apply for DACA protection before President Trump cut off applications in 2017.

More than 13,000 Dreamers in the Bay State are eligible for DACA but were not enrolled when the program ended. About 5,900 were already beneficiaries.

Karina Ham, a 20-year-old Dreamer attending Lesley University, came to the US with her family at age 4 following a series of a natural disasters in Honduras. She has had DACA status since she was 16, but that protection will expire in October if no further steps are taken. She’s hopeful there will be congressional action or a judicial solution.

The Dream and Promise Act would mean a huge difference for financing school, Ham said at a press conference held by immigration reform advocates on Monday afternoon in front of the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in Boston. “I work two jobs, and sometimes go from work to class to another,” said Ham.

Rep. Katherine Clark, who also spoke at the press conference, vowed to “make sure the Dream and Promise Act will pass.”

“We can’t just rely on federal courts. We have to take advantage of moment where we have temporary security to get permanent security,” Clark said, emphasizing the need to get legislation passed during a period when immigrants at least have some form of temporary legal status.

The bill would also repeal the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which penalizes states that grant in-state tuition to undocumented students on the basis of residency, opening doors for students who want to attend local universities. Dreamers and TPS holders would also have access to federal financial aid.

That could make a huge difference for Dejeanlouis, who pays more than $5,000 a year for community college tuition and fees out of pocket, and is hoping to someday go to a four-year college. “With the new legislation, I’d have some ease with the financial situation in school, she said.

Under the bill, the Department of Homeland Security would no longer be able to access confidential information provided in DACA and TPS applications for immigration enforcement and deportation. This is an important point for students who were undocumented and revealed themselves in order to apply for protected status from 2012 to 2017, and fear their information being used for deportation of themselves or their families.

While the House seems certain to pass the measure, it seems unlikely to advance in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Previous versions of the DREAM Act, including one sponsored by Pelosi in 2010, have failed to clear Congressional hurdles. Democrats see this version as a reset that establishes a new baseline position for the party on these issues. During the first two years of the Trump administration, DACA was often held up as a potential bargaining chip for a deal regarding the president’s border wall.