A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Thursday reintroduced bills in the House and Senate to protect undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children from being deported by the incoming Trump administration.
The legislation, known as the BRIDGE Act (Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy), initially was introduced in the Senate on Dec. 9, 2016, by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to extend legal protections and work authorizations to more than 700,000 young immigrants by three years.
That bill expired at the end of the last Congress, requiring its reintroduction by Graham and Durbin on Thursday. Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to repeal President Barack Obama’s executive actions “on day one,” and DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is one of those actions.
Removing protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children would result in lost tax revenue and decreased GDP, studies say.
“It’s my firm belief most Americans want to fix a broken immigration system in a humane manner,” Graham said in a statement Thursday. “In my view, the DACA Executive Order issued by President Obama was unconstitutional and President-elect Trump would be right to repeal it. However, I do not believe we should pull the rug out and push these young men and women — who came out of the shadows and registered with the federal government — back into the darkness.”
Durbin added: “For over a decade, I’ve come to the Senate floor to share with my colleagues and the American people the stories of talented young undocumented immigrants, who have overcome the odds to give back to the only country they call home. Since the establishment of DACA, we’ve witnessed them realize their full potential — by opening businesses, becoming doctors and teachers, and serving our country in uniform. We cannot squander that talent and dedication and send them back to countries they barely know.”
In a statement when the bill was introduced in December, Durbin said the program would follow the same set of standards established under DACA, although the bill also offered further protections than currently exist under DACA, specifically barring personal information such as an immigrant’s home address, which could be used for deportation purposes.
“If you have DACA now, you would receive provisional protected status until your DACA expires and you can apply for an extension,” Durbin said of the bill.
“If you don’t have DACA protection now but you’re eligible, you could also apply for this provisional protected presence,” he said. “Applicants would be required to pay a reasonable fee, be subject to criminal background checks and meet the same eligibility criteria that currently applies to DACA.”
Durbin made clear, however, that this bill is a provisional measure, with comprehensive immigration reform still required. “I believe this legislation will attract broad support from both sides of the aisle, but let me be clear — the BRIDGE Act that we are introducing today is no substitute for broader legislation to fix our broken immigration system.”
Rep. Gutiérrez said lawmakers “need to do whatever we can to protect DACA recipients who are already working on-the-books and not move backward to strip them of legal status. These young people are a lifeline for their families and leaders in our communities.”
He added that immigrants do not detract from American society: “The DREAMers who have DACA are not competing with Americans for a slice of the pie, they are helping to bake a bigger pie for our country and our economy.”
Rep. Coffman, for his part, said he believes “children brought here at no fault of their own merit the opportunity to live, work and study in the United States.”
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) were co-sponsors of the original bill. U.S. Representatives Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D- Calif.), Carlos L. Curbelo (R-Fla.), Zoe Lofgren (D- Calif.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Judy Chu (D- Calif.) are co-sponsors of the House version.
A report last month determined that a reverse of DACA would slash the country’s GDP by $433 billion over the next decade, including losses in contributions to Social Security and Medicare.